As the sun beat down on North Avenue, a line formed in front of Big O’s Hand Car Wash, where a man was selling snowballs.
While Damon Minor waited for his Tutti Frutti-flavored snack, the conversation turned to the presidential tweetstorm that’s turned a national spotlight on Baltimore and the civil rights leader who has long represented it in Congress. The man in front of Minor scoffed that President Donald Trump had dared call Rep. Elijah Cummings a racist.
In the city that Trump has labeled “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live,” residents are defending the place they call home and condemning the words of a president they say doesn’t represent them or have the right to trash their community.
“He’s just ignorant,” the 46-year-old Minor said of Trump. “If it’s so bad here, give more government funding to our city.
“I was born and raised here and I love my city very much,” he said. "Yes, we have our issues. There’s a whole lot of fixing that needs to be done, but what place doesn’t need some fixing?”
A segment on Fox News appears to have launched the president on his three-day Twitter tirade. In it, a Republican strategist from Baltimore County called Cummings’ district the “most dangerous” in America and showed video of boarded-up rowhouses and trash-strewn alleys in West Baltimore.
Those who live in that part of the city acknowledge the problems it faces.
Residents say they want elected officials to work together to bring more jobs to a city where unemployment in some neighborhoods tops 10 percent. They want to see laws passed that make it harder for people to obtain guns, as Baltimore is on pace to see more than 300 homicides for the fifth year in a row.
They want more recreation centers and fewer vacant homes.
“If it’s so bad here, give more government funding to our city."— Baltimore resident Damon Minor
What many in West Baltimore say they don’t want are tweets from the White House.
“The tweets are really childish,” said Timothy Cartwell, 55. “It just shows me what kind of fool he is.”
Still, to some residents in the Edmondson Village neighborhood, Trump’s tweets reflected their lived experience: Baltimore isn’t always a great place to live. But they believe it could be.
“Most people have been offended by it. I’ve been telling people don’t get upset over the truth,” Robin Harley said. “Take his sarcasm and use it to your advantage.”
Harley, who’s lived in the neighborhood for nearly two decades, believes politicians — especially council members — should channel the national attention into getting more money and resources for communities.
“This is about our city,” Harley said of the president’s remarks. “Who cares about the attack on Elijah Cummings? They’re all politicians. This is part of the job.”
In deep-blue Baltimore, Hillary Clinton won roughly 177,000 more votes in the 2016 election than Trump. He netted just about 25,000 votes.
Some believe Trump’s demeaning comments about Baltimore are part of a pattern of using his Twitter account to tear down diverse and liberal cities, stoking racial divisions in an appeal to the white voters he’ll need for re-election in 2020.
“Most people have been offended by it. I’ve been telling people don’t get upset over the truth."— Baltimore resident Robin Harley
Others point out that he’s repeatedly used the word “infested” to describe African American leaders and majority-black places. Baltimore is 63 percent black, while Cummings’ district, which extends deep into Baltimore and Howard counties, is 53 percent black.
“It’s like he’s not the president for the whole country,” said Harriette Bush as she stood on the porch of her rowhome near Druid Hill Park.
Trump has rejected the idea that his criticism of Baltimore and Cummings are racist, even tweeting Sunday: “If racist Elijah Cummings would focus more of his energy on helping the good people of his district, and Baltimore itself, perhaps progress could be made in fixing the mess that he has helped to create over many years of incompetent leadership.”
Cummings has represented Bush and the rest of Maryland’s 7th Congressional district since 1996. Bush said he’s one of the people always on the front lines, fighting for his people.
Those who live in Baltimore, she said, work hard every day to make their community better. Yes, there are rats in her neighborhood and piles of trash. But at 79 years old, Bush frequently takes it upon herself to call up the city and wrangle workers into clearing the alleyways and sidewalks.
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Terry Boykins, of the 400 block of Normandy Avenue, said he goes around the neighborhood to see where lawns need to be cut and what repairs need to be made. A few weeks ago, he had surgery and was recovering for about two weeks. After he came back he was frustrated to see no one had kept up his work.
“Ain’t nothing gets done in this city,” Boykins said. “You’re trying to bring back the city and the community and you might try and do it yourself, but if you contact the city it can be a long wait.”
Minor, too, said he takes it upon himself to clean up his neighborhood. He plugs up rat holes when he sees them and collects trash from the sidewalk and puts it into dumpsters.
“I do what I can,” he said.
It offends him to hear the president say no one would want to call Baltimore home: It’s the place he was born and raised. Trump doesn’t know anything about his community, Minor said, pointing out that Cummings is willing to meet with him in-person at his Baltimore office to discuss unemployment issues.
Minor gestured to the opening of an alley on Sanford Place, where cardboard boxes and discarded food had attracted flies that buzzed among the empty milk cartons and polystyrene containers. He suggested the city put a dumpster there or hire more workers to pick up garbage around town.
“It’s not always good looking,” he said. “But people do choose to live here.”