Shia Altman

(C)Harm city

Sometime in the mid-70’s some advertising people decided to call Baltimore “Charm City.” Today, my hometown is more like Harm City, having been beaten up last week, within and publicly without, by rioting, questionable police actions and an incompetent political leadership.

The once proud blue-collar city I knew when I was growing up, the city of Brooks and Frank and Johnny U, the great mosaic of immigrant communities – my own parents immigrating after WWII, as synagogues big and small, peppered Park Heights Avenue moving north and west to the county line, the town where neighborhoods meant you actually knew everyone on the block, the town that stopped the Redcoats in 1814 and the Reds in 1970…  I could go on, but my disgust today outweighs my nostalgia.

These are some of my thoughts. You may agree with me and you may not; certainly my Baltimore friends may wish to set me straight. I left Baltimore over a quarter century ago, so most of what I know about the city is from friends and what I see and read in the news.

I want to begin with the rioters. I have nothing but contempt for these criminals. Even if the Baltimore Police Department did everything wrong and nothing right as it relates to the arrest and death of African American Freddie Gray, the catalyst for the unrest, and even if this was just the straw that broke the camel’s back, there is no excuse, zero excuse, for violence and destruction. How does stealing help? How does burning down a pharmacy where your grandmother gets her medication make things better? Is throwing rocks at, and injuring, police officers the kind of attention that will correct any injustices?

Businesses already thinking twice about bringing their jobs to Baltimore, may think of it no more. Store chains that placed locations in poor areas only to see the stores go to empty shelves and ashes will now stay away. More may leave altogether. Your city, your home will lose billions.  The elderly in your community will suffer. Reputations will suffer. You will suffer. You want change? Work to change your inept leaders.

Which leads me to former rising political star, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.  Once seen as capable, she is now akin to a deer in the headlights, more stunned than able to govern, and woefully weak and ineffectual.  I may not be aware of whatever good Rawlings-Blake may have done, and perhaps she has done some wonderful things, but leaders are validated not by moving up from one political office to the next, but when they are tested by crisis and they persevere, and with this very important test, Ms. Rawlings-Blake has failed.

She seemingly gave the go ahead to rioters and looters to have their way by instructing the police to allow protesters to express themselves both non-violently and violently, as shown by her own words, “we also gave those who wished to destroy, space to do that as well.” She said she had been unclear.

And she purportedly told police to stand down as the city burned.  She denied it.  On April 30, Rawlings-Blake met with race-baiter Al Sharpton seeking his advice on community-police relations.  Right, that charlatan is the big expert on working with police.

Fairly or unfairly, perception is important especially when serious, clear, decisive leadership is so desperately needed.  The world now sees Baltimore only as a violent place, not one that boasts the sparkling Inner Harbor and the innovative, old is new Oriole Park at Camden Yards where the baseball Orioles played a game in front of absolutely no one a few days back because of security concerns.  The ball was in your hands Mayor, and you dropped it.

In my opinion, The Baltimore Police Department is also quite problematic.  The Baltimore Sun ran an article in September of last year stating the BPD had paid out nearly $6M since 2011 alone for police brutality lawsuits.  There have been many scandals over the last few years culminating in the death of Freddie Gray.

Look, I admire the police who have a very tough and stressful job.  I have great respect for anyone who puts on a uniform ready to take a bullet for me.  And the vast, vast majority are good cops.  But as with any profession, some are not.  Even if there are no cowboy cops on the BPD and even if the problems are mainly of perception which I doubt, a police department needs to be seen and felt as working with a community not against it.  The BPD needs to change.

Another highly questionable leader in this sad chapter is Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby.  Only in office since the beginning of the year, less than two weeks after the death of Freddie Gray, she brought charges against six police officers involved with the Gray arrest and his death while in custody.

I am not a legal expert and I understand it is a prosecutor’s job to aggressively seek justice when a crime has been committed, but a lot of what I have heard and read these last couple days from experts leads me to believe she may have acted more politically than judiciously, rushing to judgement, overcharging and jeopardizing the case.  What will happen if some or all of the charges don’t stick?  What could happen after any acquittals may make last week look like a walk in the park.

Mosby’s statement outlining her case was also disturbing.  She opened up her statement by saying she would pursue justice on the Gray family’s behalf.  She should pursue justice, period.

Mosby added, “To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ‘No justice, no peace.’”  Even though she added it is peace that is needed, how dare someone sworn to uphold the law give any kind of legitimacy to a chant that says it’s OK to go to war if one deems there has been no justice or an injustice?  Are we not a land of laws?  I am so sick of that “no justice, no peace” chant.

Mosby is credited by some for calming the rioters.  If that was her intent, she put fairness and impartiality as well as the law on the back burner.  It is the law that should drive her decisions, not politically-accelerated expediency.

On the positive side, after seeing her son on TV with a group of rioters throwing rocks at police, Toya Graham, went out, found him, berated him and slapped him around.  Good for her!  She is now being criticized for punishing her child that way, and although I feel parents should not hit their children, when a child is doing something absolutely egregious and dangerous, a good smack might just be the right medicine.  It might even save a kid’s life.

It was also good to hear Ray Lewis, the popular, retired Baltimore Ravens football player say, “Young kids, you’ve got to understand something.  Get off the streets!  Violence is not the answer…  You don’t have – you don’t have no right to do what you’re doing to this city.  Too many hard-working people built this city.  But rioting on the streets is wrong.  It’s dead wrong!  Stop the violence, man.  Go home.”

A quick aside about some in the media whose inane comments only added to the anger I felt.  At MSNBC, Joy Ann Reid said this: “When they see their parents being roughed up by police on top of the issues of unemployment and poverty that are already piled on top of them, he essentially likened it almost to Gaza.”  Ms. Reid, Gaza’s problems are because of Gaza.  Leave it to someone as transparently biased and ignorant as you to take the opportunity to unfairly and incorrectly make a comparison to Israel to somehow justify a bunch of thugs looting and rioting

Of course there is racism in Baltimore like other cities in the US, and there may very well be racist cops.  But did racism cause Freddie Gray’s death as many are saying?  The police commissioner is black and the force under him is 40% black (this is no Ferguson, MO where only 6% of a majority-minority city’s police force was black).  Three out of the six BPD cops arrested and charged in the death of Freddie Gray are black.  Are the police commissioner and the three black officers arrested, one a woman, self-hating African Americans?  I doubt it.

Is racism the reason so many black young people are unemployed and many blacks in the inner city suffer so much?  The mayor is black, the city council president is black, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney is black as well as many other city officials.

There may be a culture of cowboy policing in Baltimore, I don’t know.  But I think there is a class/poverty problem more than a race problem, and a leadership problem as well.

Finally, if what has happened to Baltimore, in fact what has been happening there and to other cities for years, is not an indictment of liberal policies in poverty-stricken metropolitan areas, I don’t know what is.  Baltimore schools are ineffective yet the school district is fourth in per pupil spending for districts with over 40,000 students, so money can’t be the answer.

And a November, 2014 FBI report stated that Baltimore had the fifth-highest murder rate in the country among cities with 100,000 or more people.  It also had the nation’s seventh-highest overall violent crime rate.

Lousy schools and useless union-protected teachers, high taxes causing a fleeing tax base, deficient leaders, government in essence feeding itself and not the poor who need a hand-up many times more than a hand-out – these things have been choking off the path to opportunity, employment, prosperity and happiness for those who so sorely need it.  The poor deserve better.

Today, I am sad for my hometown.

About the Author
Shia Altman who hails from Baltimore, MD, now lives in Los Angeles. His Jewish studies, aerospace, and business and marketing background includes a BA from the University of Maryland and an MBA from the University of Baltimore. When not dabbling in Internet Marketing, Shia tutors Bar and Bat Mitzvah, and Judaic and Biblical Studies to both young and old.
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