Baltimore’s White L Crime Panic & Post-Uprising Policies

Baltimore is at a dangerous crossroads. When crime stays in Black neighborhoods, nobody really blinks. It’s normal for Black people to die because even in a Chocolate City like Baltimore, Black Lives don’t matter.

But now highly visible violent crime is happening in White L neighborhoods like Canton, Mt. Vernon, and Federal Hill. And it’s causing a White L Panic. Just go read any of our waterfront neighborhood Facebook pages and you’ll find plenty of postings like these straight outta the White L.

Repeatedly, we see expressions like these, especially of the “they’re definitely not from our neighborhood” variety. Here’s another posting straight outta the White L.

Although the language is coded, these Baltimoreans are clearly talking about Black youth. Words like “thugs” and “inner city” are classic code words for Black people.

But if these Black youth in White L communities are “definitely not from our neighborhood” then it begs the question: what exactly is there fun for youth to do in the Black Butterfly? Mayor Rawlings-Blake closed or privatized over 20 recreation centers. The three decade old Shake and Bake in Upton is now “closed indefinitely” for repairs. Baltimore City Public School System has closed almost 30 Black public schools permanently, damaging Black communities. These schools often served as quasi-recreation centers and provided afterschool programming for Black youth.

Even though there is a Task Force for the Youth Fund, the city is not investing more in recreation centers for Black youth nor funding more such spaces in the Black Butterfly. Ultimately, charity and philanthropy are poor substitutes for consistent public spending and investment. In FY2018, we are spending $493.74 million on the Baltimore Police Department (not counting OT pay), but only spending $47.13 million on all of Recreation and Parks Department.

As Councilman Bill Henry told the Baltimore Brew, in 1991:

…we spent $37 million on the Department of Recreation and Parks, and we spent $165 million on the Police Department. A quarter of a century later, we have almost doubled the overall city government budget, we have almost tripled the police department’s budget, and we spend less today on recreation [centers] than we spent [then].

If we do the math, Recreation and Parks spending increased 21.2% while Baltimore Police Department spending has seen a 198.7% increase. That’s nearly 10 times the percentage increase in police spending compared to parks and recreation spending since 1991.

Of course, those are pre-uprising statistics by and large. But what policies have we seen enacted since the uprising? Every Baltimore politician pretty much swore that things would be different after the April 2015 Uprising just as politicians did after the 1968 Holy Week Uprising after the assassination of Dr. King. As Kevin Rector of the Baltimore Sun wrote in his April 2016 article in the run up to the Democratic primary that led to the current group of elected officials:

Many have promised that things will finally change. Mayoral candidates claim they will be the conduit. City boosters point to an increase in charitable giving and revived community groups in Sandtown-Winchester, where Gray was arrested. Business leaders promise to hire more local residents. State lawmakers in Annapolis approved legislation aimed at police reform and at funding the demolition of vacant buildings in Baltimore, and in investment in the city’s poor communities.

But what policies have politicians and powerbrokers pushed since the uprising? In 2016, Mayor Rawlings-Blake (and the Baltimore Development Corporation) pushed the $660 TIF deal for Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Development Company and the city council approved it without any real affordable/inclusionary or fair housing provisions to help desegregate the city. In 2017, Mayor Pugh (at the behest of the Greater Baltimore Committee) broke her campaign promise and vetoed the $15/hour minimum wage and gave the Paterakis family a tremendous gift by rescinding the Legg Mason profit sharing agreement (causing Baltimore to lose nearly $5 million annually in additional revenues).

Late in 2017, Mayor Pugh then partnered with Sagamore to complete an application to Amazon for their 2nd headquarters and then after all the utilization of public hours and resources, allowed Sagamore to submit the application to circumvent transparency laws. While city officials were spending all their time on recruiting Amazon for Port Covington, a Bank of America branch closed on Reisterstown Road. Soon thereafter, the Target store at Mondawmin Mall announced it would be closing in February 2018. Thus, while shilling for Kevin Plank, Baltimore officials lost precious time in stopping West Baltimore from experiencing deeper bank and retail redlining.

To top it off, Baltimore’s 83% Black school district loses state funding due to White L TIFs, PILOTs, and tax breaks such as Michael Beatty’s $107 million Harbor Point TIF. Our predominantly Black public schools will lose more funding due to the massive White L Sagamore TIF in Port Covington if the Kirwan Commission can’t figure out a funding formula that accounts for increases in Baltimore’s assessed land values on properties that are not bringing in tax revenues due to tax delays and diversions (i.e. TIFs, PILOTs, and tax breaks). Additionally, our schools were supposed to see more education funding from the casinos, but Baltimore schools haven’t seen one extra dime.

Not only has Baltimore failed to invest in Black youth, it has actively defunded and closed Black recreation centers and Black public schools. The city passes White L TIFs and PILOTs that threaten the funding of our already cash-strapped 83% Black public school system and permanently closes Black public schools when the student population drops. In addition, Baltimore has ignored a catastrophic lead poisoning crisis in Black neighborhoods that is debilitating Black minds, even after we learned about lead poisoning from hypersegregated Flint in early 2016. But we kept ignoring our mass lead poisoning.

Meanwhile, more funding is poured into hyperpolicing Black youth and neighborhoods while redlining intensifies in the Black Butterfly. Now crime is spilling over into the White L and panic has ensued. If Black youth are visiting the White L, it is because we have so damaged Black neighborhoods, schools, and recreation centers with permanent closures and defunding that they have nowhere else to go for any real entertainment and enjoyment.

In truth, Baltimore’s post-uprising policies are all policies since 1968. White Baltimore fortified itself against the “Negro Invasion” in the early 1900s and history is repeating itself with attempts to stereotype and criminalize an entire demographic of Black youth. Perhaps in the midst of the White L Panic, White Baltimore can pause to consider that it is our hypersegregation and discriminatory disinvestment — our apartheid budget, policies, and practices — that engender the very crime that many hoped enacting racial segregation policies and zoning would helped them avoid.

But racial segregation does not produce more public safety. Apartheid budgets and policies breed social pathologies. The only way forward is racial equity — investing the most in those who have the least due to the imposition of contemporary and historical trauma. Without racial equity, Baltimore cannot mend and heal from the episodic ruptures of uprisings that will keep occuring, in one form or another, until justice falls like a waterfall and righteousness flows like a mighty stream. We must make Black Lives matter — by making Black neighborhoods, Black schools, and Black recreation centers matter in our public city budgets, systems, policies, and practices.

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Lawrence Brown

Urban Afrofuturist. Equity scientist. Author of “The Black Butterfly: The Harmful Politics of Race and Space in America.” linktr.ee/bmoredoc