It’s not our job to defend Rep. Elijah Cummings from President Donald Trump’s Twitter rants. For one thing, he’s quite capable of doing it on his own, and for another, our role isn’t to offer blind loyalty to political leaders of any party but to hold them to account. Likewise, we’re not in the business of defending Baltimore from any and all criticism. Our city has problems, big ones, and we don’t shy away from them, nor do we give any politicians a pass for failing to do as much as humanly possible to fix them. But we are sticklers for facts and perspective, and in case anybody is still interested in those things, we have a few that are worth mentioning.
Mr. Cummings has not single-handedly solved Baltimore’s racial and class inequities, its injustices, its blight, its epidemics of lead poisoning and asthma, its violence or, indeed, its problems with rats. And he has been in office for a long time, more than 30 years between Congress and the Maryland House of Delegates. But Baltimore’s problems go back a lot farther than that.
President Trump, whose early career was marred by a federal housing discrimination suit, may be interested to know that Baltimore was something of a pioneer in that regard. It enacted the first housing segregation ordinances, which were soon invalidated by the Supreme Court, leading to subtler and more nefarious tactics. Racially restrictive covenants, privately enforced, prevented the sale of homes in certain neighborhoods to minorities. Redlining prevented minorities from getting financing to buy homes in white neighborhoods. And blockbusting made rich the unscrupulous men who capitalized on racism and fear to drive white flight. They profiteered on blacks who sought security and better opportunities but instead found themselves exploited and impoverished.
As whites moved to the suburbs, sped along the way by massive investments in new highways, water and sewer systems, schools and other public amenities, Baltimore City’s infrastructure began to crumble. Neighborhoods like those in the East and West Baltimore portions of Mr. Cummings’ district became increasingly isolated from economic and educational opportunities. (Mr. Cummings was among the Baltimore leaders who sought to address that problem through the development of a new light rail line connecting those neighborhoods to employment centers including the Social Security Administration and Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, but Gov. Larry Hogan, who over the weekend responded to Mr. Trump’s tweets by calling Baltimore “the very heart of the state” and on Monday by asking why politicians aren’t “focused on solving the problems and getting to work,” killed the project.)
Meanwhile, back in the ’90s, Democrats and Republicans both discovered that espousing zero-tolerance policing was great politics, so long as it was enforced disproportionately against blacks and Hispanics in the nation’s cities and not against whites in suburban and rural communities. Plenty of people share blame for that, including former Vice President Joe Biden and former Maryland Gov. (and former Baltimore mayor) Martin O’Malley. But not a lot of them continue to espouse the notion that locking more people up for minor offenses or stopping and frisking people on the streets are good ideas, as the Trump administration hasdone.