Rash of crimes in Southeast Baltimore sparks new debate over public safety

A recent spate of high-profile crimes in the area around Patterson Park has sparked new and warring commentary over the perennial issues of public safety and inequality in Baltimore.

It started this week with a blog post titled "Baltimore City, You're Breaking My Heart" from Tracey Halvorsen, who lives in the area around Patterson Park. Her subheadline: "This is why people leave."


In the piece posted on Thursday, Halvorsen says there are many reasons to love her neighborhood, but that she's tired of hearing and worrying about crime and is unimpressed with the city's response.

"You'll never have a shortage of fun and interesting places to take visitors who come to stay, just warn them not to leave anything in their car, use their iPhone while in a public area, or walk alone after dark," wrote Halvorsen, a small business owner. "And make SURE they know how to set your alarm when they leave your house. And let them borrow your pit-bull if they want to roam around a little and explore the neighborhood."

Since the beginning of the year in the area around Patterson Park, crimes have included a 12-year-old girl robbed at gunpoint on her way to school, a Baltimore Sun editor robbed and beaten in his head with a brick, and a local bartender stabbed to death in her home in what police believe was a botched burglary by two young teenagers.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts is set to speak with a Patterson Park neighborhood group on Wednesday, and police recently announced stepped-up patrols in the area.

The piece went viral locally, with more than 27,000 shares on Facebook and 800 mentions on Twitter as of Saturday morning. It also spawned several responses, including "Baltimore City, You're Not Breaking My Heart" by Tim Barnett, "Whose Heart is Baltimore Breaking, Really?" by former WYPR producer Lawrence Lanahan, weigh-ins from Baltimore City Paper and the Baltimore Brew, and more. Another recent piece by Coppin State University adjunct professor D. Watkins in Salon called "Too Poor for Pop Culture," though more about inequality than crime, added to the mix.

The responses to Halvorsen's piece range from those who believe she is justified in her fears and that they should be respected, to those who believe the writer is viewing the city through a prism of privilege. Halvorsen added a response to that criticism that said her fears truly began in November when two brothers were shot and killed in Upper Fells Point as school was letting out for the day.

"Yes, I'm white, and so are lots of my neighbors," she wrote. "I also have Hispanic neighbors, African American neighbors, gay neighbors [hand raised], old crotchety neighbors, neighbors with kids, neighbors from countries I've never heard of. It's one of the things I love about this city. But I'm not going to shut up and tell myself I have no right to be upset, when people are killed and beaten and threatened all around me. I can't speak to what it's like in other neighborhoods, in other cities — I'm not there. I'm here. And I hope I can stay and look forward to things getting better – for everyone."

An earlier version of this article identified Lawrence Lanahan as a current WYPR producer.