Violence in Baltimore is Rooted in Baltimore’s Invisible & Violent Apartheid

As of 4pm on September 19, Baltimore sits at 250 homicides on the 257th day of the year. With nearly a murder a day, Baltimore is at risk of topping the 300 homicide mark for the third year in the row. At the current rate, the city may match the 2015 mark of 344 homicides. This is in spite of valient citizen-led efforts whether 300 Man March in previous years or the community-driven Ceasefire this year.

Baltimore is in a state of crisis due to violent death but this visible violence is a symptom of a systemic violence. Baltimore is deploying an apartheid budget. We’re spending $500+ million on police in FY2017 and again in FY2018 (once you add in OT pay). Instead of Safe Streets being deployed in 30 neighborhoods, we only have them at 5 sites. We are investing in policing violence as opposed to investing in violence prevention.

Baltimore City deploys an apartheid budget, yet expects Freedom Budget results. But apartheid budgets and policies can only yield social pathologies. And homicides are a major social pathology along with opiod overdose deaths.

While some mistakenly blame the rise in homicides on Freddie Gray, we see above that violence deaths began to trend upward after the start of 2011, well before the world heard of Freddie Gray. When I say violent deaths began to trend upwards, I’m referring to BOTH homicides and drug/alcohol OD deaths. According to the Invisible/Visible Structure of Violence model by Dr. Sarah Henkeman, homicides are external violence while overdose (OD) deaths are moreso self-inflicted violence (but even here social determinants and external stressors play a heavy role).

What her model shows is that it’s the invisible violence that feeds and contributes to the visible violence we see. The homicides and OD deaths by drugs/alcohol are a direct product of structural, cultural, and psychological violence that is not readily seen but can be detected if we know what to examine.

Baltimore City is a major purveyor of invisible violence. City leaders via policies and practices help inflict structural violence through an apartheid budget, discriminatory development in the White L, and redlining/subpriming in the Black Butterfly. This structural violence is built on a foundation of historical racial segregation and serial forced displacement that constantly undermines the health and viability of Black neighborhoods and extracts Black wealth. This structural violence includes mass lead poisoning that helps elevate violent behavior in Black neighborhoods and contributes to medical neglect after exposure to such a powerful developmental toxin and neutotoxicant.

Psychological violence is inflicted through race-based trauma and racial battle fatigue arising from police brutality or through urban PTSD related arising from high levels of community violence. In the Black Butterfly, lower income Black residents regularly see death at the hands of police and community members. Hence they often have nowhere to turn for service and protection. Public health in Baltimore does not name race-based trauma or racial battle fatigue and most Black residents don’t have access to mental health services to address their issues.

Cultural violence was clearly at play when Baltimore Whites threatened by Black people moving into their blocks during the Great Migration referred to the threat as the “Negro invasion.” Cultural violence is found today in the BPD “War Room” and when Commissioner Davis refers to groups of people as “violent youth offenders going around in little packs.” This language is not far removed from Hillary Clinton’s “superpredator” term and is a dehumanizing one that paints people as a pack of dogs. This is hardly different from former mayor Rawlings-Blake referring to youth in the uprising as “thugs.”

Taken together, this language of “Negro invasion,” “war room,” “packs,” and “thugs” paints a picture of a group of people worth neglecting and shunning at best and deserving of hyperpolicing and police brutality at worst. It’s this language that helps maintain racial segregation, justifies forced displacement, and condones differential hyperpolicing in “high crime areas” due to Terry v. Ohio (1968), Illinois v. Wardlow (2000), and Utah v. Strieff (2016).

In this way, Baltimore’s structural, psychological, and cultural violence helps intensify physical violence — whether its through the economic destruction of structural violence, the mental distress of psychological violence, or the othering and discursive redlining of cultural violence. Baltimore’s invisible violence sets the stage for Baltimore’s visible violence by structurally looting Black neighborhoods of resources and opportunity, neglecting Black minds’ need for healing, and casting Black-filled areas as unworthy of investment or humane treatment.

With the erection of income-robbing casinos, the passage of massive TIFs, and the escalation of budget support for a militaristic police force, we should not be surprised by the crisis of Baltimore’s violent deaths. We have created a city on the basis of violent policies and practices. Now, our apartheid policies are cascading into crises and catastrophes of immense social pathologies that we must heal by divesting from BPD and investing in the health, housing, arts, parks, and schools that will allow our children and city to flourish.



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Lawrence Brown

Lawrence Brown

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