Last year was a tumultuous year for our beloved city. We made international news and the cover of Time Magazine. The city was set on fire, literally and figuratively. Our youth showed no regard for authority by being blatantly defiant, while opportunistic adults pillaged stores for merchandise of all kinds during the riots. The mayor used the word “thugs” to describe the people causing the mayhem in the streets. Freddie Gray died, along with 343 other people. Twenty-two of the 344 total reported homicides from last year were school aged children. In addition to the three hundred forty-four killings, we had more than sixteen hundred shootings. Man, I tell you, last year was a tumultuous year for our beloved city of Baltimore.
There were many planned events scheduled during the week of April 24, 2016 to commemorate the week our city burned in April 2015. We witnessed churches joining hands to memorialize the death of Freddie Gray, whose burial preluded the Baltimore Riots of 2015. There were candlelight vigils and peaceful protests across the street from where the Penn-North CVS in Penn-North was set ablaze. Police Officers were told to be vigilant and on active standby because there was concern that the peaceful protest would turn into an unbridled breakout.
On April 27, 2016, literally one year after the riots, everybody functioned with apprehension, not knowing what to expect. A city where people are already suspicious of others, paranoid and on edge was heightened with greater suspicion and anticipation. I was in the Penn-North section of Baltimore on that day. I was at a school, Booker T. Washington Middle School, participating in an open forum discussion on the increase of violence in Baltimore City Public Schools. The irony in that.
One year prior Baltimore City Public School students used social media to incite a purging activity at Mondawmin Mall in West Baltimore. School officials were forewarned of the threat, but chose to ignore it. The mall was made aware of the threat, but was advised by school officials and local law enforcement to ignore it. The students showed up at Mondawmin, like they normally do around 3pm when schools are dismissed, mass transit was discontinued, armed law enforcement displayed militarized force then all hell broke loose.
So, as I was saying, on Wednesday April 27, 2016 I was participating in an open forum on violence in our public schools. I said that I “participated” in the forum, when in actuality I played an extremely significant role in helping organize the entire event. The forum was attended by many stakeholders in the community. We had a distinguished panel which consisted of students, parents, teachers, law enforcement and community activists. Our audience was indicative of our panel, consisting of students, parents, teachers, law enforcement, community activists, as well as elected officials and administrators. During the discussion many issues were highlighted.
We discussed assaults on staff by students, student on student assaults, substance abuse issues engulfing our young people, untreated mental health and emotional issues causing instability amongst our youth, lack of parental guidance and adult responsibility to children, and lack of funding for resources to better serve the youth in the schools or in the communities. We discussed the harsh reality of the school-to-jail pipeline, limited opportunities outside of school for youth, lack of respect and underdeveloped relationships between youth and law enforcement in our city. In hindsight, we discussed all of the reasons that would lead to a youth revolt, a failing school system and the root causes that would deteriorate the dexterity of any community.
“What’s going on in Baltimore, now” I asked the question rhetorically. Well, would you believe that exactly one year after the riots on April 27, 2015 a twelve year old black boy was shot by a Baltimore City Police Officer for brandishing a BB gun, which mistakenly looked real? Would you believe that approximately one week after appearing at our teacher forum and addressing the crowd, issuing the challenge that “we” need to collectively work together to improve the conditions of our schools, that Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Dr. Gregory Thornton was quietly replaced from his position? Would you believe that we are creeping up on 100 murders already this year and it’s only the beginning of May?
Last week, the youngest murder victim was a one-month old baby girl whose father scalded her to death. And the oldest murder victim was a 77 year old male, found dead in his home, from “suspicious” causes. Our Democratic nominee for Mayor, State Senator Catherine Pugh, who’ll presumably be sworn into office after winning the general election in a predominantly blue city, defeated former Mayor Sheila Dixon in the primary by less than twenty four hundred votes. And would you believe that Baltimore’s election chief, Armstead B.C. Jones, Sr., had to “defend the integrity of the primary election amid allegations that some ballots went missing and others were incorrect,” as reported by Baltimore Sun journalist Yvonne Wenger and Michael Dresser?
What can I say? We’re still a city in turmoil, but we’re also a city with so much potential. I’d like to believe.