Taunya Lovell Banks
The law professor blogs have been largely silent about the sad and troubling events stemming from the arrest and death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore so I want to thank Dan for giving me this space to comment on Baltimore’s “troubles.” Having lived through the D.C. riots in 1968 while I was in law school I am hesitant to call what happened last Monday a riot, a civil disturbance is a more accurate term. But I prefer to refer to the turmoil surrounding the arrest on April 12th and untimely death of Freddie Gray on April 19th as Baltimore’s “troubles” because, as some commentators point out, what happened Monday April 27th is symptomatic of a larger problem that plagues Baltimore, an old southern industrial city struggling to redefine itself in a post-industrial country. It is a city with large areas of racially segregated housing, concentrated poverty and misery. Many of these neighborhoods have not recovered from Baltimore’s 1968 riot. But Baltimore also is a city with many universities, University of Maryland Baltimore, Johns Hopkins, Morgan State, University of Baltimore, Notre Dame, Coppin State, Loyola and Goucher (in the near suburbs). It is an arts town, home to great writers, playwrights and filmmakers. Too often these two sides of the city never meet.
I live less than two miles from the corner of Pennsylvania and North Avenue where the CVS burned last Monday and where crowds rallied throughout last week. Anyone who tuned into CNN last week saw this corner as the national and international media covered our troubles. I not so jokingly tell my friends that I live five blocks from The Wire, David Simon’s well-regarded show about some of Baltimore’s communities impacted by intractable unemployment, poverty, drugs and violence, including police violence. Despite the proximity of my relatively affluent neighborhood, composed of stately late 19th and early 20th century townhouses and bordered by the Maryland Institute College of Art, I live in a different world from Freddie Gray and his neighbors. It is easy to live in Baltimore, if you are relatively affluent, and not come in contact with the parts of Baltimore that are hurting. As one Baltimore resident wrote in Slate, people like me are complicit in maintaining the environment that resulted in Freddie Gray’s death. But in the end none of us benefit from the way some communities are policed.
Last week I tried not to watch national news coverage of our troubles because as John Oliver wryly pointed out on his Sunday show Last Week Tonight, they too often get things wrong. Throughout last week I constantly reassured friends and family who called that things were not quite as CNN reported them. Thus I have included a few links to editorials and op-eds from The Baltimore Sun that more accurately report the facts. The Sun, however, is not perfect. One editorial Policing Baltimore’s Police (May 4), incorrectly referred to the charges of arrest announced on May 1st by States Attorney Marilyn Mosby as “indictments.” Nevertheless, this editorial contains links to commentaries by former Baltimoreans like Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic about the City’s long-standing troubles. Baltimore is not alone.
Baltimore’s troubles, ground in inequality, are the Nation’s troubles. At Freddie’s funeral on April 27th my Congressman Elijah Cummings asked whether “anyone recognize Freddie when he was alive?”
There are ongoing discussions all over a soberer Baltimore, still cleaning up after the civil disturbance, about how to make life better for the other Freddie Grays in Baltimore and the nation. Whether these conversations will result in meaningful change also is open to dispute. I hope positive change will come, but know that it will not come quickly.
My next post will discuss the decisive, albeit controversial, charges brought by States Attorney Mosby against the six police offices (three black and three white) and the issues surrounding police misconduct.