Baltimore stands strong

Erricka Bridgeford talks about the Baltimore Ceasefire Sunday morning at the Living Hope at Kingdom Life Church in Baltimore. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun video)

Baltimoreans know this 290-year-old city better than any long-distance observers. They know its strengths and its weaknesses. A whole lot of them are working in myriad ways to make it better. But sometimes it takes the threats and insults of outsiders to serve as a prod, a reminder of its value and a spur to set aside differences and pull together.

In this case, the affront came from the president of the United States, a man who relishes picking fights with those who threaten his sense of infallibility. He made Baltimore — part of which falls in the district of Rep. Elijah Cummings, who chairs the House Oversight Committee that is investigating the president’s conduct in office — his punching bag in a barrage of tweets and before gullible audiences on the campaign trail. He called the city filthy and full of rats, though the presence of rodents is nothing shocking to dwellers of any of the nation’s cities, and I’m sure the White House has its share of four-legged rats among those of the two-legged variety.


Baltimoreans had a few choice words for him in response.

Religious leaders denounced his harsh words as “horrible, demeaning and beneath the dignity of a political leader who should be encouraging us all to strive and work for a more civil, just and compassionate society.”


David Simon — creator of the television shows “The Wire,” “The Corner” and “Homicide: Life on the Streets” — tweeted back to the commander in chief: “This is a city of good Americans who deserve more than a grifting, hollow and self-absorbed failure of a man as their president.”

Leaders of educational, business and philanthropic institutions banded together to tout Baltimore’s track record of confronting challenges and its “proud legacy of leadership in improving lives and setting a national example for a stronger tomorrow.”

But Dedra D. Layne may have put it best Sunday.

“No matter what it looks like to the outside world, there is a rhythm, there is a pulse, there’s energy that speaks to the heart of Baltimore,” the director of Safe Streets Baltimore, which is part of the mayor’s criminal justice operation, said. “We are in the evolutionary process of our best selves.”

She spoke from a York Road parking lot that had been transformed into a neighborhood block party for the day with musicians, poets, inflated bounce houses for kids and plenty of hamburgers and popcorn. The occasion was not just a lovely late summer day, but both the grand opening of the city’s newest Safe Streets outpost and the conclusion of a Baltimore Ceasefire weekend.

Kyron Wright, 4, takes a break while playing inside the inflated Candy House play area during the party to celebrate the opening of the Woodbourne McCabe Safe Streets site in the 5300 block of York Road. (mother gave permission for photo.)
Kyron Wright, 4, takes a break while playing inside the inflated Candy House play area during the party to celebrate the opening of the Woodbourne McCabe Safe Streets site in the 5300 block of York Road. (mother gave permission for photo.) (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

The center, where violence interrupters try to stave off bloodshed through mediation and other strategies, and the Ceasefire effort, now concluding its second year, are both about affirming life.

Dante Barksdale is a Safe Streets violence interrupter with a message for the president, who thinks the city is full of thugs. “The criminals here are the smallest part of our population. The rest of our citizens and the rest of our folks are good upstanding citizens. We just have a few that make us look bad,” he said, adding: “I used to make us look bad, but guess what? I’ve been fighting for the last 12 years to make us look good.”

While some here spread the message “Stop Shooting, Start Living,” others live it, and the better among us do what we can to assure that others may do so, too.

“We’re no different,” says Lisa Jones, who will direct the Safe Streets center on York Road. “We are a community that needs resources. And what we need is a lot of people who love each other. Like any other community, there are certain things that go wrong. That’s no reason to single us out. I would say to Donald Trump: ‘Where’s the love?’”

In Baltimore, as people go about the business of being Baltimoreans, the president is background noise. His name didn’t come up unless inquiring reporters like me asked. And life proceeds on purpose, as it usually does for most residents.

Here in Baltimore, we know the real deal: The president’s fit is all about his reelection bid. He’ll leave no stone unturned — and lob them at those he thinks too timid to stand up to him.

But Baltimore is standing strong.


E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: ershipp2017@gmail.com.

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