Cennamology Chief Editor
I did not write a post immediately after the Baltimore riots for a number of reasons. It was being reported by every single media outlet, people were blaming one another, party politics was injected into the debate, and I had finals coming up. But the main reason I waited to do a story about the riots is because I wanted to avoid the mistake the major news outlets did - doing a poor job reporting about the riots.
I have determined that, one month after Freddie Gray's funeral, one month after I watched as a newly-built senior center burned to the ground right up the street from my apartment building, and one month after the largest city in the state that I love relived 1968, it is the right time for me to reflect on everything that unfolded.
Baltimore is no longer the center of the entire media's attention. The curfew is over, the national guard has left, and the noise from the brigade of new helicopters is no longer a distraction. The Baltimore riots will just be another news event that the country will lose interest in and not read about again until the week after Christmas in 2015 year in review clips.
The day after the riots showed the true character of the city, with residents helping complete strangers board up their broken windows and recoup any losses that occurred the night before. While this was mentioned by the media, the focus was still largely on the looters and rioters. This was and still is very troubling, as the small minority of city residents who participated in the riots were just that - a small minority. Most Baltimoreans were interested in rebuilding, not destroying. While I may have been embarrassed by what happened during the riots, I was once again proud of the city the next morning, after seeing so many residents who wanted to help the community rebound.
The rioters' actions were not characteristic of the city as a whole, but the media pushed it and pushed it to the point where an outsider would think that the condition of Baltimore is comparable to that of a third world country. Even with strangers helping strangers open up their businesses much sooner than anyone thought would be possible, the media still wallowing in the ratings boost from riot footage.
Essentially, when it comes to truly covering all of the issues and components surrounding this story, the media gets a big fat F.
What has become the national story one month later is the increase in killings and shootings within the city. In the last month 36 people have been killed, the highest monthly total since 1999. The Baltimore police are not surprised by this number, as arrests are down compared to last month. Many officers are also saying that they are hesitant while on the job, as the public scrutiny surrounding the department has become intense.
At the same time, protests decrying Gov. Larry Hogan's decision to fund a $30 million youth jail project have risen, with community leaders suggesting that Hogan use that money on struggling Baltimore schools instead. This decision by the governor to fund a jail for teenagers tried as adults (a project that was originally developed during Martin O'Malley's administration) instead of city schools is a peculiar decision at such a trying time for Baltimore.
After seeing what has unfolded in the city over the past month, there are a couple of things that Marylanders need to remember, and a number of policy objectives that should be considered by lawmakers on the city and statewide levels.
One is that cutting education, especially for the city of Baltimore, should not be on the table. Maryland public schools are often ranked the best or second-best in the country (something you will hear about once O'Malley is officially running for president). However, most of the educational achievement is within a few counties of the state, with Baltimore City being on the outside looking in. Can we really claim to have the country's best schools when we have a jurisdiction that is performing so incredibly below the rest of the state?
These lower SAT scores are just one variable, and my readers know that I loathe standardized testing and believe the system only makes it harder for people to move up the economic ladder, especially when certain tests required to enter college. And the graph above just strengthens my disdain for standardized testing. However, SAT scores are still an important variable. Baltimore City's low scores logically lead to lower college acceptance rates and lower employment rates among Baltimore's teens.
This phenomenon is nothing new, and is just one of several factors that led to the unrest. Education is the one-way street out of Baltimore's low-income neighborhoods. As Baltimore's education system continues to lag behind the rest of the state, there will not be peace in the city. This is not the time to take money from schools, it is time to reinvest in education in Baltimore and address these problems head on.
In addition, something must be done as Baltimore City schools will soon be closed for three months. Summer vacation should not comprise of a total break in education for students in Baltimore, and officials need to ensure that it is not. The city should take the next few weeks to focus on ways to ensure children in poor neighborhoods do not recede in their education during the summer months. This would involve investment in parks, camps, and other educational opportunities to give students something to do other than joining gangs and getting into trouble.
Focusing too much on the decreased number of arrests in the city, which the mayor has indicated she is currently doing, is not the appropriate next step for the city. In some years, when city arrests were down, so were homicide rates. In fact, the decrease in arrests may be a good thing as long as that decrease is in non-violent and petty crimes. Instead of operating under the belief that the city should return to mass arrests, the force should stay focused on violent and repeat offenders.
In the meantime, mending the relationship between the police and people of Baltimore is a long-term goal where the search for solutions cannot be delayed. We need to come together to determine what the first step towards that goal should be. One thing is for sure - focusing on arrest numbers should not be one of the steps.
Baltimore still has a long way to go one month after the riots. Some say that the city still has not fully recovered from the 1968 riots. As a community, let's make sure that the city recovers a lot sooner from the 2015 riots.