By: CSI Staff
What is happening in Baltimore is not new.
In 1968, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Baltimore and many other cities across America broke out in riots. The riots then were not new either. In years prior, riots broke out in Detroit, Newark, and other cities. In response, the Kerner Commission released a report in 1968 on the underlying causes of these riots. The Commission found that de facto segregation, unequal living conditions, and a severe lack of economic opportunity in predominantly Black towns and cities were the roots of the so-called “race riots.”
Forty-seven years later, little has changed.
Baltimore is still one of the most highly segregated cities in the United States, with Black communities concentrated in the inner city and western suburbs. Access to affordable, healthy food in these predominantly Black neighborhoods in Baltimore is rare. According to a report by the Opportunity Collaborative, Black folks represent a quarter of the Baltimore region’s working-age population but account for nearly half of all unemployed people.
These are a glimpse of the structural, racial underpinnings that comprise the roots of the uprising in Baltimore. The inequality in Baltimore isn’t natural; it’s the cumulative result of years of racially discriminatory policies and practices within multiple institutions. We call this structural racism.
In the past few years, due in no small part to the work of organizers and activists of color across the country to create and influence media, these historical roots have become a necessary component of the discussion of abusive police practices in Baltimore, Ferguson, New York City, and more.
Here is a sampling of some of the best structural analyses of Baltimore:
The Best Commentary Out Of Baltimore Is Coming Straight From the Mouths Of Its Residents
Nick Wing and Amber Ferguson, Huffington Post
“Baltimore residents were out in force on Tuesday, cleaning up their city and contributing a new round of diplomatic discourse to a tense debate that had boiled over the night before in violent clashes, riots and looting.
While many television stations covered the turmoil breathlessly on Monday night with wall-to-wall images of raging fires, ransacked stores and other destruction, they dedicated much less time to the underlying causes of the unrest. Instead of discussing the crushing poverty, lack of opportunity and patterns of controversial police behavior in the neighborhoods hit most heavily by the rioting, news anchors collectively clutched their pearls, wondering aloud how such bad things could happen in Charm City.”
From Ferguson to Baltimore: The Fruits of Government-Sponsored Segregation
Richard Rothstein, Economic Policy Institute
“In Baltimore in 1910, a black Yale law school graduate purchased a home in a previously all-white neighborhood. The Baltimore city government reacted by adopting a residential segregation ordinance, restricting African Americans to designated blocks. Explaining the policy, Baltimore’s mayor proclaimed, ‘Blacks should be quarantined in isolated slums in order to reduce the incidence of civil disturbance, to prevent the spread of communicable disease into the nearby White neighborhoods, and to protect property values among the White majority.’”
The long, painful and repetitive history of how Baltimore became Baltimore
Emily Badger, Washington Post
“Just a few years ago, Wells Fargo agreed to pay millions of dollars to Baltimore and its residents to settle a landmark lawsuit brought by the city claiming the bank unfairly steered minorities who wanted to own homes into subprime mortgages. Before that, there was the crack epidemic of the 1990s and the rise of mass incarceration and the decline of good industrial jobs in the 1980s.
And before that? From 1951 to 1971, 80 to 90 percent of the 25,000 families displaced in Baltimore to build new highways, schools and housing projects were black. Their neighborhoods, already disinvested and deemed dispensable, were sliced into pieces, the parks where their children played bulldozed.
And before that — now if we go way back — there was redlining, the earlier corollary to subprime lending in which banks refused to lend at all in neighborhoods that federally backed officials had identified as having “undesirable racial concentrations.”
The Deep, Troubling Roots of Baltimore’s Decline
Jamelle Bouie, Slate Magazine
“[Urban] Renewal displaced 25,000 Baltimoreans—almost all of them black—and the new high-rises were built with segregation in mind. By the time construction was finished, the new projects had bolstered and entrenched the segregation of the past. The black areas of 1964—and of the 1968 riots—are almost identical to the black areas of 50 years prior.”
Why Baltimore Burned
Dan Diamond, Forbes
“Less than 60% of Baltimore’s high school students graduate, the worst mark in the state — by far.
Taken together, these disparities illustrate what poverty’s like in big-city America. And the effects are brutally obvious in Baltimore’s health care statistics.
Black infants in Baltimore are almost nine times more likely to die before age 1 than White infants. AIDS cases are nearly five times more common in the African-American community.
“Only six miles separate the Baltimore neighborhoods of Roland Park and Hollins Market,” interim Hopkins provost Jonathan Bagger said last year. ‘[B]ut there is a 20-year difference in the average life expectancy.’”
Blatant racism is easier to confront; Try tackling the subtle, systemic kind
Zeke Cohen, Baltimore Sun
“The harder thing is acknowledging that residential segregation has been built into our city’s DNA. Our original charter in 1915 had separate housing tracts based along racial and religious lines — whites here, blacks there, Jews somewhere else altogether. When the Supreme Court deemed such a practice unconstitutional, neighborhood associations formed “housing covenants” that banned homeowners from selling to black people. Then after World War II, the Federal Housing Administration “redlined” areas with a concentration of black people to dissuade banks from lending there. This kind of structural racism is not just history book fodder. Several banks have recently paid huge amounts to settle claims they participated in predatory lending schemes that left many minority borrowers in massive debt.
These policies, among others, are a primary reason why the neighborhoods in Baltimore that have experienced the greatest growth and prosperity are overwhelmingly white. Conversely, neighborhoods like Sandtown-Winchester, which suffered from years of disinvestment and neglect — and where we currently spend $17 million per year incarcerating people — are overwhelmingly black.”
Instead of overturning decades of racial discrimination in housing, employment, education, access to food, and more in places like Baltimore, we as a nation have prioritized policing and protecting abusive police officers. We as a nation blame the victim, presenting conditions in Black neighborhoods as the result of laziness and criminality rather than as a result of a systematic disinvestment in Black communities.
The death of Freddie Gray was a spark that created a fire. The fire roared because of decades of structural racism that provided plenty of tinder. Fire is destructive, but it can clear the path for the new. Is this the moment when we overturn decades of police abuse, racial discrimination and severe underinvestment? The people of Baltimore demand that it is.
The Road Ahead:
The indictment of the six police officers responsible for the death of Freddie Grey is only the beginning of achieving real justice in Baltimore.
At this point, the relationship between police and community is tattered. Building trust requires recognition of the historical antagonistic and destructive relationship between the police and communities of color, and an overhaul of the policies and practices that have shaped police institutions for decades. Transforming police departments means working within departments to re-envision what “to protect and serve” actually means.
In Seattle, the community asked the department to track and report its own race-based disparities in policy and practice. Not only must community hold the police accountable, but police officers must learn to hold each other accountable.
But this is the immediate term. To be clear, we need less policing and more community alternatives to policing, but this also requires a strong foundation from which to build those solutions.
We need to support long-term community organizing on the ground. As the first link on our list shows, Baltimore residents understand their conditions better than any pundit or outside organization. To dismantle structural racism in Baltimore, we need to support vibrant, long-term community organizing with our dollars.
We must directly address and end the War on Drugs. The War on Drugs has been one of the primary ways in which racially segregated, unequal conditions are maintained. Because of this War, an overwhelming number of Black people have been incarcerated, thus stunting social and economic mobility for hundreds of thousands in the Black community.
Lastly, government must be more meaningfully accountable to the community and proactive in its response to community demands. It has been government policy and practice that created deep and pervasive inequities and it is only through government that is inclusive, accountable and proactive that these unequal conditions will be addressed. Having significant Black leadership is necessary, but not sufficient. Unless elected officials and government agencies are intentional about centering racial equity at all levels of decision-making, we will not be able to overturn decades of structural racism.
Though six cops responsible for the death of Freddie Gray were indicted, justice means both holding accountable the Baltimore police department for years of abuse and addressing system-wide disinvestment in Black communities. This work is new territory but seeds of change are happening across the country. Baltimore can plant these seeds today.