I live in a city where a man — an off-duty police sergeant with 22 years of service — stands in front of his house on a sunny summer afternoon, speaking with a neighbor, and ends the day on life-support as doctors and nurses deeply experienced in bullet wounds try to save his life.
Those of us who have lived here a long time, or even a short time, become numb to these stories, but the attempted robbery and shooting of Sgt. Isaac Carrington stands out because of when it happened, around 3:20 p.m. on a Thursday, and where it happened, in a relatively safe northeast Baltimore neighborhood, and to whom.
These last few dreary years have taken a heavy toll — on the victims and their families foremost, but also on those of us rapidly losing faith that Baltimore can ever rise from this noxious muck of violent crime.
Shootings have been almost daily occurrences for a long time, but they have been more frequent during two periods — in the crack-laced 1990s, when police recorded 300 or more homicides each year of that decade, and again since the Freddie Gray spring of 2015 and the burgeoning opioid-addiction crisis. While I want to believe the police commander who says a new strategy will slow the pace of violence in the coming months, Baltimore could very well see its fifth consecutive year of 300-plus homicides.
It’s abjectly depressing. It seems like a cancer on our city, with no signs of remission. The brazenness of the Carrington shooting — and of others that occur in broad daylight — speaks to, among many factors, the officer shortage in the police department. The lack of police presence has given the impression of the city as open range, with the odds favoring criminals.
There’s no denying any of this. I live in a city with lots of problems — drug addiction and homelessness, gangs and guns, vacant properties, a high concentration of poverty, a school system that struggles to improve the life prospects of kids — and our problems endure. All over the city, a lot of good people — teachers and cops, social workers and volunteers — work constantly against them, but they endure.
In Baltimore, we have become famous for our chronic problems through the entertainment and news media, and recently with tweets from the White House.
The Republican president and his fans seem to relish the opportunity to mock Baltimore as a failure of Democratic leadership when, of course, that’s simply blame by default. Republicans have had little to do with solving problems in Baltimore for decades. In the years since Freddie Gray’s death, the Republican governor of Maryland had a couple of major opportunities to give Baltimore a big economic boost and establish himself as the broker of bipartisanship he says he wants to be, but he took a pass both times, and is mostly an onlooker now.
When I hear supporters of Donald Trump say the president is merely pointing out the obvious — that Baltimore, a majority black city, is so bad “no human being would want to live there” — I hear only racist ridicule. I don’t hear presidential acknowledgement that Baltimore’s problems deserve to be urgently addressed, or that the federal government should play an even bigger role in funding and driving new interventions to stem crime, subsidize more and better housing, and help the city grow again.
Problems often endure because the people who could solve them get caught up in the blame thing. Placing blame takes a lot of time and energy, and it usually results in hard feelings and impasse. Trump’s presidency marks the crescendo of an era of super-partisanship and political tribalism. He spends a lot of time attacking and blaming, and little time fixing. His obsession with Central American immigrants, marked by his administration’s cruelty toward people who crossed the border without permission or who seek asylum here, is about playing to his #MAGA crowd for re-election, not solving the nation’s immigration quandary.
So yes, I live in a city with big, persistent problems. But I — that is, we — live in a country with big, persistent problems. Those who reside elsewhere and smugly deride Baltimore as an urban disaster ought to look around at our not-very-great country — at our opioid epidemic and the rate of overdose deaths; at the disturbing rise in suicides, especially in rural parts of the country; at the decline in life expectancy; at the amount of guns in private hands and our world-leading rate of mass shootings; at the rise in hate crimes; at neglected infrastructure; at a wealth gap that continues to grow to obnoxious levels despite a relatively strong economy.
Those are all huge challenges. You would think that people who win seats in Congress, or the big one in the Oval Office, would want to go to Washington to fix things and build a better country. But, as we saw with the battle over health insurance and the Affordable Care Act, one party is there to do as little as possible. So it’s a regressive time in America. We can sing the praises of the economy, but the problems I listed — I didn’t even mention climate change — remain squarely in front of us. They were decades in the making, through administrations of both parties. I don’t blame Trump and the Republicans for all of our problems. I blame them for doing nearly nothing about them. In Baltimore, we at least try.