A 29th floor perspective of Baltimore

On a recent Thursday evening, I was sitting on the 29th floor of the Four Seasons sipping a $16 cocktail out of a gold-rimmed glass. It wasn't my usual scene. In fact, I'm certain my mother will roll her eyes when she reads that.

I was being treated to a fancy drink, with a view, by a friend for the holidays. Unsurprisingly, it was a rainy night and I could see the ricocheting water hammer the vast expanse of high rises and pavement laid out in front of me.

That same night, in a scene I'm much more familiar with far below that 29th floor, was a shooting inside a Fells Point bar. The news of it shared my social media feed with images of cars being burned up in Mount Vernon. As if a life and a vehicle are of similar value. Naturally, the headline made more of an impact on my network of friends and coworkers than any other act of violence we hear about on a daily basis out of Baltimore because it was in a "good neighborhood."

What that really means is a neighborhood we're familiar with. Not on a street corner, or in a liquor store surrounded by foreclosures and discarded fast food wrappers. But rather, a neighborhood that my friends and I seek out for food and drinks and laughs. The areas where people feel like if they walk in a group, they won't have any of the problems they hear about in the news. As if those are someone else's problems with Baltimore, but not ours.

I could picture that bar. The narrow feel of Baltimore's historic establishments. People turning sideways to squeeze by the bar stools as they piled in. The smell of cheap light beer and deep fried food in the air. The slow roar of music and patron's voices competing for an audience. That was where I would normally be on a night before a holiday break.

But sitting on the 29th floor, I couldn't even see that bar, nor hear its screaming customers as the shot was fired that killed the 301st person for 2018 in Baltimore City. And neither could any of the power players — and people playing the part — sipping pricey drinks around me.

But that's Baltimore isn't it? We're all looking at each other from a distance, not really understanding what we see, but still passing judgment. The high rollers in Harbor East don't understand the millennials that are seeking a "divey" establishment in Canton, Federal Hill and Fells Point. The millennials don't understand the record-breaking violence in the neighborhoods that cause them to lock their car doors and roll up their windows. Both groups think the squeegee kids are more than a nuisance, maybe even dangerous. We all give up asking ourselves why a kid would waste his precious youth standing on a street corner cleaning windshields. Or why the city can buy back enough weapons to form a militia, and still the war rages on in our streets. Why do we settle for navigating our city like a game of Capture the Flag, with only a few spots considered "home base" that are safe?

Block by block and floor by floor, we find ways to segment ourselves from each other. We've all heard of a bad street, a rough corner or a seedy spot in the city. But those trivial divides are slowly blurring. No matter how "good" your neighborhood is, or how many floors your elevator climbs, Baltimore violence impacts all of us.

So for 2019, I don't want to make 29th floor perspective judgments. I want to see my fellow Baltimoreans in vivid detail and with understanding. Whether that means taking time to talk to someone, even when I have nothing but a kind word to offer them, or traveling outside the "good" neighborhoods.

Until we feel like we're all living in the same city, we will never solve the issues that erode our quality of life.

Emily Witty is a communications coordinator for the Maryland Department of Commerce. Twitter: @ewitty5.

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