“People don’t remember how fast you did it, but how well you did it.” – Donald E. “Doc” Glover
(BALTIMORE – August 24, 2017) – As a resident of Sandtown, I am extremely mindful of the way this community has been historically treated – just like East Baltimore, Park Heights, and the Village. Such communities are heavily African American. And in an historically racist nation, most of us understand that black people tend to get the crumbs, generally speaking, while white communities get the lion’s share.
The challenge is, however, that Baltimore is a majority black city with a battalion of black elected officials in key positions, including mayor. To me, there should be no problem whatsoever serving black people. Period. End of story.
I have seen it done in Washington, D.C. when the late, great Mayor for Life Marion Barry was alive. And I have seen it also in Atlanta during the tenure of the late, great Mayor Maynard Jackson.
However, the truth is that the black community is not monolithic. And while there are black elected officials who understand the community, others do not. Truth be told, a key issue is classism where upwardly mobile blacks work against poor black communities.
Clearly, Baltimore has more than its share of poor and impoverished peoples. Sandtown, it is no secret, is the poorest jurisdiction in the State of Maryland – along with our black brothers and sisters in East Baltimore. This is where the largest percentage of the state’s inmates live when they are not in prison. This is where the most dope is sold. This is where people have the worst health in Maryland. AIDS, diabetes, hypertension, asthma, teen pregnancy, poor prenatal care, alcoholism and drug addiction are just some of the issues.
Add to this list of ills the burgeoning murder rate (in the 220s as we speak), and one should have a clear understanding of how our beloved Sandtown became the epicenter of international media attention following the tragic murder of Freddie Gray. When you feed one community and starve the other – when you lift up one community but demonize the other, what else can you expect?
I should add that mainstream media is no help in this one newspaper town. Further, this is exactly why I am committed to continuing to serve in the independent black press corps – no matter how uphill the struggle.
Unfortunately, not everyone cares about the poor. Typically, leaders with such a mindset figure you just put all of the poor and disenfranchised in one area and, hell, let them kill themselves, and be done with it.
To the point of today’s editorial: I think it is terribly unfair for the City of Baltimore to open a second homeless shelter in Sandtown – this one at the former William Pinderhughes Elementary School located at 1200 N. Fremont Avenue so as to relocate “Tent City” which was camped in front of City Hall for the past ten days.
Over 40 tents were on the lawn in front of City Hall because homeless advocates wanted action.
I get it.
As a community advocate since 1994, I understand this work of serving the disenfranchised all too well. I have personally been on the front lines as an advocate for my community for more than two decades. Hence, this type of advocacy is nothing new to me.
What I do not understand is how decisions are made at City Hall regarding the community and the community, the one most disaffected, is not even informed of these changes, even when our position is already documented. Mind you, the decision to move this group of homeless people was essentially made in one day.
The building in question has served as a temporary homeless shelter before. It was also used as a police training facility. And it was used as a school.
Fact: Last year, a hearing was held at the Zoning Board regarding this same structure. The community, including the merchants at the Avenue Market (directly across the street), emphatically opposed this former elementary school being used again as a temporary/permanent homeless shelter.
For one, Sandtown is already home to a homeless shelter. Located at 1114 N. Mount Street, this homeless shelter is named after Harry and Jeanette Weinberg. What’s unfortunate about that move is that this same building was once the Sandtown-Winchester Community Center. This was during the Kurt L. Schmoke mayoral administration.
Once the Martin O’Malley era began, Sandtown was no longer the darling of the powers that be nor quintessential example and national jewel of community transformation it once was. Nineteen years later, Sandtown is a shell of what it used to be. It is full of neglect, lacking recreational facilities, and void of anything empowering – except, I guess, the newly renovated Western District Police Station that had its grand opening last week. That, my friends, is the only thing ‘new’ in Sandtown since the Freddie Gray Uprising. Wow!
What kind of message does this send to a community already traumatized by illegal drugs, police brutality, and uninterested politicians? And just where are the internationally-renown psychologists and sociologists on the impact of this renovated cop shop on an already bludgeoned and depressed community like Sandtown?
Today, in addition to being the home of the largest open-air drug market in the world, I have a white homeless couple traversing my alley as they go back and forth to their abandominium everyday. Today, getting such abandoned houses boarded up is a regular task. We have even started the process of bricking up these structures so as to avert fires. Several abandoned houses in my immediate area went up in flames last winter. Some could have been saved, but we have a broken fire hydrant opposite this new homeless shelter and that means our dear firefighters have to work unnecessarily harder to do an otherwise simple task.
You see, I have watched firefighters walk an extra two blocks to connect the hoses to a working hydrant. The looks on their faces is unforgettably remarkable. You can see it in their eyes: ‘This makes no sense at all.’ Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and the fires blaze higher and higher.
All this to say: I want to thank City Hall and Mayor Catherine Elizabeth Pugh for one, not informing the community that this second homeless shelter was coming; no memo; no fliers; nothing. Thanks also for ignoring our voices from the public forum last fall regarding its future where the community consensus was in favor of a community center, not another homeless shelter. On top of that, thanks for chaining off the adjacent playfield where our children play and where we exercise our pets, as if community residents now can’t enjoy something as simple as green space.
I have attempted to look at this positively. I can’t. I ask: Haven’t we learned anything from the Freddie Gray Uprising? Don’t we know that we cannot bless one community but yet punish another? Isn’t this as racist as what happened recently in Charlottesville with the Ku Klux Klan, the Alt Right and the Neo-Nazis?
At least those overt racists in Virginia had the guts to show their faces. In Baltimore, a 9-to-1 Democratic town where blacks are shamed into voting for Democrats every single election, there are too many parts of the black community that have no changed since the Riots of 1968. Where is the accountability?
Yet, there is no shortage of excuses as to why resources are instead pumped into areas like North and Charles, an area loaded with artsy white folks, that has seemingly transformed overnight.
You know as well as I do that if Sandtown were Guilford or East Harbor (more prominent sections of town), the City of Baltimore, the Mayor, nor anybody else would even fathom the thought of placing a homeless shelter – let alone a second homeless shelter – in the community.
In Sandtown, the City does what it wants because we are collectively the bottom of the barrel and I guess we don’t matter. Heck, we don’t even get a memo letting us know we’re getting screwed.
This is yet another slap in the face of taxpaying citizens already burdened with the highest water bills and the worst socio-economic indicators in the State of Maryland. Way to go, Baltimore! (Not!)
#freddiegray #blacklivesmatter #sandtown