I was jumped last Friday night. Around 11 p.m., while reaching for my keys to enter my apartment building, I was grabbed from behind, hit in the face, thrown to the ground and punched repeatedly a few feet from my door. My teenage assailants surprisingly made no effort to take anything from me and ran off laughing as I gathered my bearings and staggered inside. Though I had a fat lip, a bruised cheek and a pounding headache, my encounter left me with no lasting scars. Instead, my experience put me in a reflective mood.
I have lived in Baltimore for almost three years without incident, and in many ways the assault Friday night felt like a perverse rite of passage into local city life. I had heard stories from friends who had been held up at gunpoint for money and read articles in the newspaper of more extreme and deadly encounters. In the larger scheme of things, my experience was not really a big deal, as I explained to the police officer who arrived on the scene afterward.
Though I have been told that "a liberal is a conservative who hasn't been mugged yet," my reaction to the experience was not to seek retribution but, rather, to think about why our teenage residents had nothing better to do on a Friday night than attack a random person in the street. I'll never know what the reason was for their senseless, spontaneous assault. Was it a dare? Was it an initiation into a gang? Was it racially motivated? Was it out of sheer boredom? Whatever it was that caused these teenagers to jump me, my overall reaction is not anger but disappointment and frustration that these kids apparently did not have better opportunities and constructive ways to spend their weekend.
Since graduating from college in 2005, I have lived up and down the East Coast, from Washington, D.C.to Boston, and across the Atlantic Ocean in Dublin, Ireland. During this time, I have never felt such a close connection to a city as I have to Baltimore. Maybe it's the small-town feel. Maybe it's the city's perennial underdog status relative to larger metropolitan areas. Maybe it's the great music and arts scene. Maybe it's the Natty Boh. But for whatever reason, this city is special. It has a hold on me.
Yes, I know that my experience Friday night pales in comparison to many of the crimes and atrocities that take place here on our streets every week. Still, I believe in the promise and possibility of Baltimore. It is a city with a rich history and tradition that begs to be respected and resurrected once again. I understand that these opinion pages are often filled with condemnations and criticism of Baltimore and urban life. Call me naive, call me young, call me whatever you want. But I still believe that Baltimore has the potential to be a welcoming, inclusive and loving place to live (even if it is not the "Greatest City in America," as many benches around town proclaim).
Though I did not feel much love on Friday night outside my apartment, my belief in the potential of this city remains strong. If our teens are out on the streets attacking people, it says as much about ourselves and our priorities as it does about our kids. It is easy to demonize the young people in this city and simply say that Baltimore is doomed to live out its "Wire" stereotype. Instead, it takes more courage to invest in our young people and recognize that the kids out in the street today will be the ones shaping the future of Baltimore. Let's give them all the opportunities and resources we can to ensure that our youths are spending their Friday nights planning for a better life ahead of them, instead of attacking a random person on the street.