The violence in Baltimore has something in common with climate change: They not only seem like intractable problems, one local and one global in scale, but both can make all other things — things that seem important in the moment, controversial things that provoke hours of talk on talking-head television, the day-to-day things right in front of us — seem irrelevant.
Though it’s powerfully tempting to do so, especially on beautiful spring days, I find it hard to move past the rate of shootings that occur in the city where I live. In fact, it’s impossible. Over the weekend, 18 more people were shot, including two small children; seven people were killed in three days. There were more shootings Monday and early Tuesday, including another homicide.
Just before this horrible spate, I found myself absorbed in a promising subject: The restoration of vacant buildings and rowhouses in West Baltimore, an area of the city long neglected in redevelopment efforts. But the shootings and killings — the continuing insanity — seem to undercut every good measure taken. Gunfire drowns out the sound of circular saws.
I find it equally hard to stop thinking about the rate of climate change. Scientists think we have about a decade to change our carbon-emitting ways before it’s too late for the planet. And the latest report from the United Nations says the human epoch might be responsible for the loss of a million plant and animal species on Earth, depriving us of vital biodiversity on an unprecedented scale. “On the whole, we are committing earthicide,” says my smarter brother, Joe, a scientist.
I would say it’s best not to think of these things, but that’s impossible.
I had started out with other plans for this column today — to address a government issue that deserves your attention, or to describe the renovation of an old public market — but ended up thinking, again, about the violent weekend, and those little kids who were shot in Carrollton Ridge.
And then the new report from the U.N. arrived, along with photographs of dead sea-turtles and whales.
So now that I’ve brought you to this gloomy place, you probably want to ask: Now what? Where do we go from here? And I say this: There’s no easy way out of either problem, and no single solution.
To master big, complex problems, we have to do everything.
Recently, after writing columns on the subject of Baltimore’s population loss and suggesting ways to reverse it, some readers wrote to say nothing good will happen until the police get the violence under control. New housing, new jobs, new restaurants, new residents — none of that happens while so many people are getting shot.
And I agree that reducing violent crime should be the top priority. It’s tempting to think of it as a threshold issue — that is, a chronic problem that must be solved before all else. But that’s not enough. We have to do everything.
Over the horribly violent weekend, some votes shifted and all 14 members of the Baltimore City Council ended up electing Brandon Scott their the new president. That Scott is the council member most identified with efforts to reduce crime probably had a lot to do with it. But Scott’s statement on Monday went beyond that, referencing the city’s other big challenge — the schools — and the recent run of mayoral failure, including Catherine Pugh’s resignation last week. “We have a lot of work to do to get Baltimore moving in the right direction,” Scott said, “by working to break the chokehold that the disease of gun violence has on our neighborhoods, improving our schools, and bringing accountability and leadership back to City Hall.”
Of course, he could have mentioned the need for more jobs that lift people out of poverty, more affordable housing, more neighborhood investment, attracting more conventions, cutting the property tax rate, fixing broken water mains, getting people to stop dumping trash, and improving bike and transit infrastructure. Baltimore needs all those things. Monday night, an acquaintance in West Baltimore sent a text out of the blue: “What are we going to do about the Fentanyl epidemic?” So add drug addiction and opioids to the mix.
We have to do everything because everything — effective schools, decent housing, thriving businesses and restaurants, committed residents, responsive government — is related to stopping the violence that grabs the municipal psyche and beats it to a pulp.
That’s why I no longer make time for the people who just want to list Baltimore’s chronic problems — indeed, some take perverse pleasure in them — without recognizing how deep-seated they are, and without offering solutions.
There’s no time to just stew in failures.
Same, on a grander scale, with climate change. There’s no time to debate it anymore. Scientists and engineers have described the challenge and told us what needs to be done. But if we concede that it’s a problem too huge to arrest, or if we support politicians who call it a hoax, if we don’t insist on international treaties to reduce carbon emissions, if we don’t do everything possible, and soon, then we’re finished.