The suburbs have a role in preventing another Freddie Gray

Are we to assume that police forces in the suburbs are paragons of civic responsibility?

I read an article in The Aegis headlined "Harford police agencies helped out in Baltimore

And as I read the Baltimore Sun and listen to WYPR radio, I hear imaginative and worthy comments about what needs to be done, what actions would "fix" the problems in Baltimore, what might create a hopeful future for the city.

The conversation, however, seems to focus on "us" and "them." It separates the black community that suffers a range of social and economic ills from the white community perceived to be free of those ills. Police in Baltimore City are said to be heartless and out of control. Are we to assume that police forces in the suburbs are paragons of humanism and civic responsibility?

So I bring back the article in The Aegis, which is owned by The Baltimore Sun Media Group. Why does it seem that suburban counties can only offer troops to combat civic unrest? Why is there no discussion of how the problems of Baltimore City are also the problems of the great metropolitan area? Why is there no discussion of the responsibilities of the suburban counties in the creation of an economically vigorous region?

If I were asked what might help Baltimore in both the short and long run, I point to the city's relationship with the suburban counties. I would focus on shared economic needs. I would address the problems of public transportation most of all.

Look at lively urban centers that have been able to take advantage of good times and weather economic downturns. In these places I see an effective public transportation infrastructure, the easy movement of people to jobs and to leisure activities. City dwellers can move about with ease and leave the city for work and pleasure. Suburbanites can commute to jobs, attend sporting events and cultural activities, go shopping and enjoy life in the hub that contributes such value, constitutes such a resource, to their suburban lives.

But the mayor plans to reduce public transportation options in the city by cutting the Charm City Circulator routes. More people will be left dependent on cars if they want to get to a job on time. Individuals in the city's broadly lamented "food deserts" will have no way to get to whatever sources of fresh and healthful foods there are. The ill are forced to call costly taxis to get to medical appointments.

The new governor, Larry Hogan, has signaled that be may put a halt to light-rail plans already underway and focus on roads that encourage pollution, pave over wetlands and woodlands, and encourage a lifestyle dependent on self-indulgence and fossil fuels. His efforts will curtail access to Baltimore for workers, music lovers, museum visitors, sports fans and tourists.

And all the while those of us who live in the suburbs will condemn the hooliganism or the "thugs" that control Baltimore neighborhoods. Those of us who enjoy the fresher air and greener landscapes of Harford, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel or Howard counties will see our lives as something good because we are good citizens, responsible members of society, people with no connection to the realities of Baltimore City.

But as goes Baltimore, so goes Maryland.

At least in my opinion.

Baltimore needs better cops, cops of better moral character, cops who are better trained, better equipped to deal with the realities of the communities they are supposed to serve. Baltimore needs schools that can better serve the complex needs of the city's children. Baltimore most of all needs an economic structure than can adapt to changes and look forward with confidence to the future.

And Baltimore cannot do that alone. Baltimore needs the support of the state of Maryland, and it especially needs a positive relationship with the region that it supports.

We are all in this together, people.

The poet John Donne had it right in the early years of the 17th century in his Meditation XVII: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main… any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

Any neighborhood destroyed by looters and fire is a neighborhood all of us lose. The events surrounding the death of Freddie Gray are not "Baltimore's problems." They are our problems, wherever we live in Maryland.

Ellen B. Cutler is an adjunct professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Her email is ebcutler@verizon.net.

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