A few years ago, I visited a West Baltimore home where my family had lived for a time in the 1970s, a bustling block of detached two-story homes with neat lawns and hedges in a working-class neighborhood of families, most with children. 

There used to be vibrant storefront retail businesses on the busy local thoroughfare that provided grocery staples and other basic household amenities any family might need. They’ve since been overrun by an abandoned, decrepit, foreboding landscape of decaying buildings overgrown by weeds, vines and trees. 

On my old block of approximately 30 homes on either side of our street, perhaps only every third house was still occupied, the others deserted. Among the homes where people were still residing, many seemed uninhabitable by their appearance. In the home where my family had lived, a tree had sprouted through the basement floor and out the roof, with branches extending through doors and windows. A family was living in a home 40 feet away.

Walking through the alley behind my old home, there were rat carcasses in varying stages of decay, mounds of garbage strewn everywhere and broken glass crunched loudly under my feet. Many of the houses, like my old home, were dilapidated, overtaken by mangled brush and grass. The once flourishing local merchants were long gone. In their place were rundown bars, multiple liquor stores, bail bondsmen and Asian take-outs, all fortified for security and with worn-down, dirty facades.

Unfortunately, as I have traversed Baltimore City through other West Baltimore neighborhoods where I either lived or frequented, I was confronted with similar conditions. Edmonson Village, Poplar Grove Street, Walbrook Junction, Park Heights, Reservoir Hill, Sandtown-Winchester and Carrollton Ridge, are all downtrodden to the point of utter despair with rampant, pervasive squalor.

Over the last two generations these horrible conditions have manifested in the West Baltimore of my youth. The residents who continue to reside in these circumstances are mostly hard scrabble working poor along with a large minority of citizens living in abject poverty, usually on public assistance.  

Employment opportunities and access to government services within these neighborhoods are virtually non-existent. Most of the public schools in these communities share the same level of degradation and disrepair as the housing stock, with the same malfunctioning heating systems— forget about air conditioning— and pest infestations.

Due to communitywide low educational achievement and abysmal unemployment, the illicit drug trade has become the default local economic driver in many of these neighborhoods, enforced by heavily armed drug gangs. Most of the crime and violence is fueled by dealers competing for supremacy in the drug trade, and drug users scavenging to finance their habits at the expense of their destitute neighbors, employing robbery, burglary, larceny and carjacking among other strong-arm and nefarious means to satisfy their chronic addictions.

And then there’s widespread trauma. Baltimore, for the past decade, calendar years 2013 through 2022, has averaged 311 murders per year. Behind these grim statistics, real people are left to mourn, suffering severe anxiety, depression and grief, especially children and the unfortunate who have born witness to the carnage firsthand. Factor in 688 non-fatal shootings in 2022, down from 726 unsuccessful attempted murders in 2021 (during a pandemic) and the normalized psychological burden shouldered by residents on the frontlines of Baltimore’s gun violence scourge becomes more severe.

Couple the mental anguish associated with a rate of killing comparable to a war zone, added to the degree of victimization resulting from nearly 27,000 annual criminal acts, chronic housing, food and utility insecurity, systemic, often harsh police confrontations and the community’s surreal, dystopian physical landscape and one can begin to understand the conditions that foment the degree of chaos inflicted on Baltimore City, where nearly 1 in 4 of 620,000 residents subsist below the poverty threshold. This data represents the routine daily lifestyles of roughly 125,000 citizens. Of Baltimore’s roughly 180,000 children, 1 in 3, 35%, live below the poverty level.

The preceding narrative reveals a treacherous reality behind the awful statistics defining the lives of too many African American Baltimoreans, statistics often discussed and debated casually without visceral consideration or empathy for the grossly vulnerable and underserved people behind the numbers. Please keep in mind these statistics are describing real people, real contemporary living conditions of your neighbors, or perhaps yourself.

The conditions that confront Baltimore are a communitywide problem requiring a communitywide solution. Baltimore City cannot legislate or police its way out of our current predicament. The only authority our elected and appointed officials have is to follow voters’ dictates. Their mandate resides with Baltimore citizens. In a government by, of, and for the people, We The People must step forward and lead. Vote!

Regi Taylor
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