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Saturday, June 10, 2023

Looking Past the Glory and the Gory, What Is Really the Park Heights Story?

In the last two editions of The Baltimore Times, we published editorials that featured the gory and the glory of our beloved Park Heights community.  In the May 19, edition, 2023 issue The Baltimore Times Preakness Special Edition chronicled the entire 135-year history of Park Heights – 1888 to 2023, describing how over 100 years earlier the community introduced commuter flights from Park Heights Avenue’s principal of three airports, Handler Field, to New York City.

We described how Park Heights offered trolley service south to Baltimore’s Central Business District along both the Park Heights Avenue and Reisterstown Road corridors in the 1920s, offering riders optimum traveling convenience as an alternative to the personal automobile, which had only become a mass transportation alternative in 1915.

Our editorial chronicled how African American inner-city residents migrated west along Reisterstown Road (Reisterstown Road south of West Baltimore’s North Fulton Avenue, below Mondawmin Mall, becomes the storied Pennsylvania Avenue, Black Baltimoreans fabled arts/culture and entertainment district of the 1930s through the early 1970’s), and Park Heights Avenue, desegregating the predominantly Jewish Park Heights and Pikesville neighborhoods.

The prior editorial, the May 12 edition, addressed a very dire profile of Park Heights as the epicenter of Baltimore City’s gun violence epidemic, noting that in the last six and one-half years, Park Heights accounted for 11% of murders in the city, 230 since calendar year 2017, representing an average of one killing every three days for 76 straight months.

What is behind the grim statistics of Park Heights contemporary legacy of crime and gun violence? In a February 2018, Op/Ed addressing the generalized question of why many of Baltimore’s underserved residents experience a degree of dysfunction that precludes them from partaking in the limited resources available to the Black community at-large in comparison to our Caucasian neighbors, I asked this question:

“Is it justified to simply scorn the behavior of bad actors who wreak havoc upon neighborhoods in Baltimore without accounting for the unabated decades-long systemic isolation and degradation of communities of color by the larger society that has caused wide swaths of the urban landscape to become desolate wastelands where the more fortunate inhabitants subsist?

“The least fortunate among Baltimore’s subsistence culture, however, barely survive in an unbelievable environment of squalor with a physical terrain that resembles a war-torn milieu of vacant, decomposing structures and neighbors in perpetual survival mode.

“The daunting conditions that pervade Baltimore is the perfect storm to produce violent actors.  Why is the government’s response not to invest resources that might curtail or reverse the conduct of very desperate people, but to invest more police resources to contain them?

“The conditions faced by most of Baltimore’s poor communities of color have been inherited in a linear trajectory from slavery, through Jim Crow to the present without ever having portended any major social, political, or economic uplift.

“The out-of-neighborhood migration of the best and brightest, strongest and most ambitious, among the community’s resident talent pool caused a brain-drain that left only the least able and educated en masse to fend against a system that never supported their drive towards emancipation into full citizenship, with all the privileges that come with it.”

Why the worst statistics associated with the malaise in certain Baltimore neighborhoods has befallen Park Heights as opposed to another community may simply be the unfortunate luck of the draw. However, Park Heights’ fall from grace since the late 1970s, compared to the promise it had one hundred years ago when the community boasted three commuter airports, can be traced to systemic disinvestment related to “white flight,” Caucasian neighbors essentially fleeing mostly into Baltimore County and Carroll County rather than desegregate with their new dark-skinned neighbors, taking their shops, institutions, and other financial resources with them, left Park Heights bereft and desolate.

Another condition of affecting quality of life in Park Heights is the mental state of residents. In recent years mental health has become more recognized as a debilitating condition for many individuals. Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control estimates that as many as 50 million Americans suffer to some from it to some degree. In the case of inner-city urban dwellers, the diagnosis is associated with ACEs (Acute Childhood Experiences), a condition for African Americans. 

Since African Americans have only begun to realize a modicum of genuine citizenship in the last five decades, after a century of Apartheid, Jim Crow, and 250 years of brutal enslavement with no reprieve, exacerbated by gross economic subsistence, blatant discrimination, and flagrant police oppression since the Civil Rights era, is it any wonder large swaths of urban Blacks nationwide are in a quandary of depression and despair?

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