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Shipp: No quick fixes for Baltimore

There are no quick fixes, Baltimore.

Over the last week I’ve been reminded of that as I observed the kind of euphoria that greeted Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s formal installation as the city’s 51st mayor; the perseverance of the Baltimore Ceasefire movement, even when violence mars a weekend of peace; and the precipitous sacking of a television news anchor.

Even as many people hail a new era with the swearing-in of Mayor Young, optimism that the city may be on the cusp of transformation cannot mask this truth: Key players have assumed new roles, but they are actors in a long-running drama in a theater called City Hall. Nothing has changed in the strong mayor-weak City Council model that has outlived its usefulness. Nothing has really changed in the lives of those struggling to make it from day to day.

“Today marks an opportunity for all of us,” Gov. Larry Hogan said during a ceremony at the War Memorial infused with the energy of well-wishers. “With new leadership, we now have this opportunity to rededicate ourselves to finding real solutions to the serious problems facing the city.” He, state legislators, members of Congress and civic leaders all pledged support.

Let’s hope they were not just caught up in a moment.

The new mayor inherits from a string of mayors a legacy of racist policies that still manifest themselves in everything from housing to transportation to parks and recreation. Honest conversations about that might help all of us understand what lies before us if we are truly to make this the city of our aspirations.

Local television station WJZ blew such an opportunity when it decided to fire Mary Bubala, a longtime anchor and reporter, after she asked a poorly-worded question during an on-air discussion about the leadership crisis at City Hall just moments after Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned. Her question seemed to suggest that the mixed record of three consecutive black women mayors — two of whom resigned in scandal — was at the root of the city’s governance problems. Had Ms. Bubala had a history of racist missteps, that would be one thing. But she did not. She did what many of us do when, with more ignorance than animus, we try to engage in conversations that touch upon race or ethnicity or gender: We succumb to foot-in-mouth syndrome. WJZ’s knee-jerk solution actually impairs rather that improves race relations and deters anyone from engaging in conversations much tougher than the on-air chitchat that Ms. Bubala tried to initiate.

Glossing over a problem is not an option for Mayor Young or Police Commissioner Michael Harrison when it comes to crime, the issue for which everyone is demanding an answer. But hundreds of parents who have lost children, sometimes more than one — like Burnett McFadden, who buried three sons killed in separate incidents in one year — know that a new mayor and a new commissioner may be little more effective than a fresh coat of paint. More is called for from more of us.

Erricka Bridgeford and other members of the Baltimore Ceasefire movement have offered a way to raise consciousness about these homicides that evidence a devaluation of life. When it comes to gun violence, we are Bodymore to Chicago’s Chi-raq. The ceasefire advocates, who for more than a year now have campaigned for 72 hours without violence every three months, are calling upon all of us to find ways to rewrite the script.

At the start of the latest Ceasefire Weekend last Friday, two men were killed. To naysayers, that is proof of the folly of trying to meet violence with affirmations of life and love. But Ms. Bridgeford, a professional mediator, has a retort. “I ask them what they’re doing about it. People generally get quiet because they expect me to defend something that I’m not going to defend,” she said Saturday afternoon at the Maryland Film Festival, following the screening of the film, “Sage,” which focuses on her efforts. “When people get killed during the ceasefire, we have to have an answer for that; and our answer is we show up with love and light so that murder doesn’t have the last say.”

No, there are no quick fixes. But with eyes wide open and deep reserves of determination, Baltimore will make it through with Jack Young and whomever follows him.

E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: ershipp2017@gmail.com.

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