On Saturday, crowds of young people unsurprisingly went to the Inner Harbor in downtown Baltimore. It was a warm, clear night on a three-day weekend. Many enjoyed the weather and company of their friends. Some exhibited disruptive and destructive behavior, including fighting and other violence. While there can be no justification for the latter actions, much of the public commentary about the behavior is also of questionable judgment and symbolic of the kind of historic disconnect and disenfranchisement that perpetuates this unruly behavior and reprehensible activity.
"This weekend's incident was unacceptable and regrettable," Donald Fry, CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said in the Baltimore Business Journal. "It is vitally important that all Baltimoreans appreciate the significance of maintaining the safety of this center of activity for residents and visitors alike. Anyone visiting the downtown area has a duty to be respectful of others and to act responsibly."
Mr. Fry’s focus was not merely on what took place but more importantly on where it took place, and that is also regrettable and unacceptable. Imagine if Park Heights, Broadway East, Belair Edison, Greater Mondawmin, Edmondson Village, Penn-North, Poplar Grove, Darley Park and so many other distressed communities were considered to be as valuable as downtown Baltimore and the Inner Harbor. What is also disturbing is the silence and ambivalence regarding everyday violence and murder in our inner city communities. Where are the business leaders condemning that as unacceptable and regrettable and calling for the maintenance of safety throughout the city? What people experienced downtown on Saturday is what is experienced in our city schools and distressed communities every day.
What should be regrettable and unacceptable are the inner city communities that lie in waste, while downtown and its immediate communities continue to benefit from new amenities and reinvestment. As I read the article in the Baltimore Business Journal on the commotion at the Inner Harbor leading up to Memorial Day I was stunned by the shortsightedness of those who believe that the greatest need we have is to make downtown more safe. That seems to be the theme of the year: to make our business, commercial, educational and health industries and institutions more safe and secure while our inner city communities continue to endure a dearth of amenities, opportunities, decent school facilities, affordable housing and community collaborative public safety.
The reactions I read were reminiscent of the reactions after the uprising of 2015, when Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the Harborplace Galleria were being threatened with riots and the National Guard was called in. It is analogous to states challenging Roe v. Wade and banning abortion even in cases of rape and incest, but neglecting early childhood education, basic health care, economic justice and a myriad of other disparities that negatively affect distressed communities and minorities. We cannot police these problems away. And neither can we create invisible gated communities. And as much as I agree with our mayor in calling for parental responsibility for teen-agers, I also believe we have a systemic and economic problem that has so eroded our family structures and parental norms that what we used to reasonably expect barely and rarely exists today.
The heart of our beloved city of Baltimore is broken, and it will not be mended until we turn all of our attention, intellect, resources and vision toward restoring people and rebuilding properties in our urban communities. The unsavory behavior on Memorial Day weekend is merely a consequence of systemic and economic neglect and disparity. We have to be more deliberate, elaborate and strategic in creating health, wealth and opportunity for our youth, especially in distressed inner city communities.
Let’s go to war against poverty until we heal successive generations of its regressive impacts. Let’s reinvest in our inner city neighborhoods until we revitalize dignity and pride. Let’s give the youth the tools they need to rebuild our city and its infrastructure. Let’s make Memorial Day 2019 memorable for the change we strive to intentionally make to ensure all of Baltimore is safe and sustainable.
Donte' L. Hickman is pastor of Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore City, Harford and Howard counties. His email is email@example.com.