It made for good photos, compelling videos and catchy Twitter hashtags. A group of conservatives rolled their pickup trucks into one of West Baltimore’s most impoverished neighborhoods Monday for a cleanup day. Loaded down with trash bags and shovels, they cleared alleyways of old tires, food containers, paper and other debris. They pulled up weeds and cut away overgrown grass. The group posted before and after pictures on social media showing their progress.
The effort was organized by pro-Trump activist Scott Presler. He claimed the event was not political. Yes, he was inspired to come by tweets from President Donald Trump describing the area, represented by U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, as a “rodent infested mess.” But the visit wasn’t about showing support or animosity for either man, he said.
Call us skeptical.
Look, we appreciate anyone who is willing to roll up their sleeves to help Baltimore. More than 170 people came from all over the country and cleaned up nearly 12 tons of trash, according to Mr. Presler’s Twitter feed. He doesn’t post any photos of the totality of the trash, so we’ll have to take his word for it.
But if this was all about “Americans helping Americans,” why all the videos of Baltimore residents thanking Mr. Trump for bringing attention to the issue? We happen to know that not everybody in West Baltimore feels that way. And in the same posts as the videos, why the frequent reminders that this is in act Mr. Cummings’ district?
Then there’s the photo of a Washington Post front page from the day that President Barack Obama was first elected. Mr. Presler tweeted that volunteers found the strikingly un-yellowed, decade-old newspaper among the trash. “Obama Makes History. U.S. decisively elects first black president," the headline reads on the page. “It’s been 11 years,” Mr. Presler tweeted in what reads as a not-so-subtle critique of how much good Mr. Obama did for Baltimore.
Whatever he says his motives were, Mr. Presler’s presence in Baltimore reinforces the tired image of our failing urban cores. That the poor people in this dilapidated city can’t take care of their own neighborhoods and all the public officials around them have failed as well. The bureaucratic, all-talk Democrats strike again. If a crowd of volunteers could clean up 12 tons of trash in 12 hours, how incompetent and helpless must Baltimoreans be if they can’t manage it in decades, right?
Amazingly enough, Mr. Presler is not the first one to come up with the bright idea of a neighborhood cleanup. It is not really that remarkable of a concept. In fact, they happen all the time. Sadly, it doesn’t take long for people (frequently from outside the community) to refill the alleyways with illegal dumping and for grass to grow again in front of vacant buildings with no resident available to tend the lawn. Does Mr. Presler know that drug dealers use trash to hide their product and have been known to threaten people who try to clean it up? The solutions are just not that simple.
The silver lining in all of this is that the residents of West Baltimore did get a much needed cleaning up. That is something that they deserve. Streets and alleyways free of trash go a long way in improving the psyche of a neighborhood and its residents. Not to mention deterring crime. Mr. Presler says that people around the country are planning similar clean up events in their own communities. A loud round of applause for that as well. Spiffier neighborhoods are good for everyone.
We also hope Mr. Presler keeps his promise to return to Baltimore once a month. It would definitely give his motives more credibility. It might also give him better perspective about the city’s problems than any single visit can provide. Maybe it could even lead him and his followers to advocate for federal housing, health care, transportation, education, criminal justice, civil rights and anti-poverty policies aimed at urban communities.
In the meantime, we’ll see how clean the neighborhood still is when he returns in September.