All of us in Maryland, whether we were born here like my better half’s family or came here as I did, have been glued to news and social media over the last few days as the rioting in the city of Baltimore reached its peak yesterday, the day before the Maryland National Guard arrived in force and a citywide curfew took effect. While it seems like strong medicine to some, sometimes the role of government is to restore order in a crisis and here’s hoping the MNG’s stay is short and uneventful.
But there is another side of this which I think will last far longer. In the coming months and years, much discussion will occur about how Baltimore can bounce back from this crisis. There are the immediate effects in certain neighborhoods which have suffered the brunt of the damage and whether these business owners will reopen, but few outside the neighborhoods or city at large will know. Even the facts the Orioles had to postpone two games, will play a third in an eerily quiet stadium closed to the public, and will have to become the St. Petersburg Orioles for a weekend as they play scheduled home games in their opponent’s stadium will eventually become a historical oddity, particularly if the Orioles advance in the playoffs.
Some have already touched on how things appear looking forward, whether at the tourism angle as Rick Manning does or just the absolute disgust with the situation expressed by Joe Steffen. However, I tend to look at things from the political side and there are a number of effects this recent unrest will create.
Fortunately for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a 2012 law change changed the Baltimore City elections from 2015 to 2016; otherwise, this unrest would have been a more current campaign issue. But it still should be a topic of campaign contention, and it’s likely several aspirants may spring up seeking to take the Mayor’s chair from Rawlings-Blake. Certainly her actions in this crisis don’t add to her resume for another term should she seek one.
But the problem is that most of these contenders will be the same politicians who got the city into the situation to begin with. In Baltimore City, based on recent results, the real election will take place in April when the Democratic primary is held. 2011’s election featured just eleven Republican candidates in total, with the only two contested elections being two-person GOP primaries for mayor and city council president. (Only 7 of 14 Council districts had a Republican running.) GOP mayoral candidate Alfred Griffin got just 13% of the vote in that election. Republicans can pay lip service to reaching out to the minority community, but this is a process that could take several elections and change is needed now.
It’s worth pointing out, though, that in 2011 the real big winner was apathy – Rawlings-Blake received 40,125 votes but 324,885 voters didn’t show up so the task may not be as Herculean as imagined. Just get some of those who were disinterested to show up and vote for real change.
Yet the politics of the problem extends far beyond who actually votes for whom. It’s easy to complain about lack of opportunities and blame problems on those officials at the state and federal levels – particularly if they happen to be of the opposite political party. But this rioting was years in the making; it just needed the right series of events to occur to touch things off and the death of Freddie Gray was the spark.
One of the Baltimore images that’s etched on the minds of many was a scene where a young rioter was berated by his parent. Yet my question is this: where was mom during the previous 16 years? And what about dad? Most boys raised in two-parent families would have faced the wrath of both their mom and dad if they even breathed in the direction of that riot, but Baltimore is a city of single mothers who have to enlist help from their own parents to raise their children because, in many cases, the fathers are absent. In a city that’s roughly 2/3 black, and at a time when over 7 of 10 black births are to unmarried women, the odds are pretty good that a Baltimore City child is raised in a single-parent household and that government does more to support these children than the father does.
To be perfectly blunt, Baltimore doesn’t change until that statistic changes. To me the best way to change that is for the upcoming generation to stay in school, go to church on Sunday, and keep things zipped up until marriage. But what did the black generations pre-Great Society know, anyway?
Another way to help is to try and create job opportunities for blue-collar workers. Former gubernatorial candidate Ron George said it first, but it should be on the mind of Larry Hogan as well: “I want to build a tax base in Baltimore.” I realize it’s not that simple – particularly given an entitlement mentality exhibited by some in that community – but if the right conditions can be created the rebuilding can be permanent, and we won’t be revisiting this situation in a dozen years or so.
Needless to say, my perspective on Baltimore is definitely that of an outsider: I live 2 1/2 hours away on the other side of a significant body of water in a place where the culture is far different. But common sense is common sense, and the lack of it over the last few days is doing significant damage to Maryland’s flagship city. Maryland doesn’t need to have the reputation as a real-life version of “The Wire,” so those citizens who really want to help improve Baltimore (as opposed to those who want to enhance their political and/or criminal empires) need to step up their games and show some of the leadership that has been sadly lacking.