28 April 2015


I still dream of Baltimore.

Perhaps its strange for me to think that after only four years away I would stop seeing the city I grew up in when I close my eyes. But by now I would have expected at least some of the dreams I remember to take place in New York. But no, somehow every time I wake up and try to remember what I was thinking about over night,  I find myself in Baltimore again.

Last night, everyone was in Baltimore. As I said to people after the relatively small disturbances at the end of an otherwise peaceful march on Saturday, Don't call this a 'riot.' You do NOT want to see Baltimore riot....well, sadly here we are. Baltimore is a city sitting on top of a tank of highly flammable liquid. Last night, someone, in some areas literally, dropped a match.

We all saw images of a city in chaos last night. Today, I feel myself in two places at once, my body here in New York, my mind and thoughts back home in Baltimore. I worked at the library on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and North. Before that I worked at the Mondwamin Mall. My sister-in-law, cousin-in-law, and friends live in Freddie Gray's neighborhood. Its a strange, nearly science fictional feeling - I see a group of teenagers here, and am immediately thrown back down I-95 and think I'm seeing groups of Baltimore teens.

Ask why so much of our anger and destruction has been focused toward the BCPD

Every person deserves beauty and safety, information and entertainment 
Watching the burning and looting of the CVS at Penn- North last night, all I could think about was the Pennsylvania Avenue Branch of the Pratt Library, where I got my start in the library profession. Part of me wants to believe that the library was spared because it is a bright spot in that tough neighborhood, where all of us on staff, past and present, tried to do our best for those who came through our doors, providing a safe space for all.

I want to try to untangle some of my thoughts about Baltimore here over the next few days.

I have been trying for days to think of what to write about Baltimore and the death of Freddie Gray. I won't say nothing comes - perhaps its best to say TOO much comes to my mind: about Sandtown, lead paint, the Baltimore City Police Department, despair. How too many people in town are so far past being sick and tired of being sick and tired that they've given up, throwing up their hands and saying, "Well what do you expect, it's Baltimore!" Considering how the Baltimore Sun exposed the criminal nature of the Baltimore City Police Department over two years ago, and little to nothing was done, who can blame them? In much the same way that the Times-Picayune 'predicted' what would happen to New Orleans with their series on the levee system years before Katrina hit the city, far too often it takes a cataclysm before people notice anything.

Also I think about self-fulfilling prophesies: What happens when expectations have been lowered so far down you cannot even see them? What happens when you tell a population by inaction, word and deed "You ain't shit" over and over and over again. What happens if you think one segment of the city is filled with nothing but drug dealers, criminals and thugs - terms used to describe those living in many of the neighborhoods in West Baltimore that erupted long BEFORE last night's riots - so when people die in those neighborhoods, well, they must have been 'in the game' or in a gang, or shouldn't have been standing around once bullets started flying so they really only just got what they deserved?

America saw what happens last night in Baltimore.

But it has also seen it in Ferguson, and elsewhere. It saddens me to say this, but I know we will see it again. And again. And again, until some very fundamental things change.

I can tell you what happens to individuals who live under these conditions, who hear crap like this all the time, because it happened to me. I too sometimes got so tired and upset at being looked at in fear, of seeing people think my friends and I were dangerous and violent simply by virtue of our skin color, or zip code, that sometimes I too have thought, "Okay, fine - You think I'm dangerous, let me BE dangerous, let me show you 'danger'," and wanted to lash out. Many people, mainly white and not originally from Baltimore, have spoken about how 'angry' the city is. I've not wanted to think about the anger inside myself, or just considered it 'personal' and related to my own issues around being physically and emotionally abused as a child, and feelings of familial abandonment. It sometimes surprises me how rage filled some of my work is. But this anger both is and is not personal, because the forces against the individual are not truly focused on them as people. Because you are not seen as a person, as a human being. You are part of some undistinguished, insignificant, terrifying 'Other' upon whom twisted fears (and twisted desires) are projected. That might be the most frustrating thing - like a terrorist act, the hate you feel coming toward you really is not about *you* at all. People react to the fact that there is a 'hard', 'don't give a fuck' attitude in Baltimore. Yes, its there. And, as much as I suppress it, it is there in me, too. If you've shown that you don't care about me and mine - why in the hell should I care about you?

At least I have an outlet - I write. I try to create. Baltimore is a city that has cut back on after school programs, recreation centers, school libraries and nearly every other program that might engage young people, and give them a way to channel their energy and focus their thoughts, while focusing funding and resources around the Inner Harbor and other tourist areas, leaving huge swaths of the city neglected. What happens to young people without ways to express themselves, who see no ways out at all?


John K said...

I was hoping you'd write about what's happening in Baltimore. Tonight on Chris Hayes I saw several young bruthas from there talking about the situation, and they were so eloquent in their own way. One young man kept saying, "We hurting inside," and "it's anger," and "what happened to Freddie Gray been happening over and over" and so on. I thought, for once we are getting to hear people there, the people who can't take it any more, speak. And you're a Baltimorean and I hear you too. I'm glad that you posted, and please post more if you can!

Unknown said...

I live in Seton Hill, and have been surrounded by the love, care and concern of my neighobours. There are a lot of good stories happening in Baltimore right now. Yes, there is anger, and there should be. It isn't always directed at the right people. But there are a lot of people doing cleanup, trying to calm things down, playing music in public, etc.

Julie R. Enszer said...

It has been sixteen years since I lived in Detroit, but it is absolutely the space of all of my dreams. I cannot forget it or leave it behind.
I'm glad you wrote about Baltimore. I have been thinking about you and the city and the people and wanting to know the ending but knowing we all must write a part of it. Sending you love my friends and hopes for many good dreams of our past and our future.

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