People have long misunderstood and misrepresented Baltimore, my cherished hometown, but much of what President Donald Trump said this past weekend about Charm City was right on the nose. The president categorized Baltimore as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” which sparked ire among his always-vocal choir of critics but offered no untrue information.
The president was responding to longtime Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, whose district includes Baltimore, who had issued an incendiary attack on acting Department of Homeland Security head Kevin McAleenan for conditions on the U.S. southern border. Cummings yelled at McAleenan during a House Oversight hearing, claiming he possessed an “empathy deficit” about migrant families at the border.
An Unfiltered Look
Disparaging remarks about Baltimore are not new. Politicians, celebrities, and even residents of the city have easily mocked the soaring crime rate, rodent infestation, and never-ending parade of local government scandals. The three most recently departed mayors have left in disgrace. One was convicted of fraud that involved stealing gift cards from needy families, and another is under active investigation for embezzling government funds.
A local Baltimore Fox affiliate even attempted to shine a light on their own problem in 2018 using an “unfiltered” look at the city with recently ousted Mayor Catherine Pugh. “Whoa, you can smell the rats,” Pugh said during the program as a camera crew followed her around the streets of the decaying city.
Trump critics, of course, called him a “racist” for shifting the spotlight from the southern border to the troubled, predominantly black city only 40 miles away from the nation’s capital. “Those people are living in hell in Baltimore,” President Trump further said on Tuesday morning. Media outlets were quick to condemn his words as bigoted and an attack on black congressional leaders. Headlines such as “Baltimore Stands Up for City After Trump Comments” were firmly affixed across the internet and cable news chyrons.
But what good does it do to pretend Baltimore is not a rat- and rodent-infested mess? It is. In fact, Baltimore’s homicide rate is so high that under current U.S. asylum laws, the residents could qualify for refugee status in the United States. The population of Baltimore decreased by nearly 8,000 residents between 2017 and 2018 as residents fled the nightmare-like conditions of their neighborhoods.
Rife with Corruption, Abuse, and Squalor
Poverty has decimated Baltimore. Row homes built in the mid-1900s for working-class families expanding into the then-flourishing waterfront city are now ghostly shells filled with squatting drug addicts. The Baltimore Police Department, fighting corruption itself, has been permanently cast as the villain bent on unjustly punishing the black citizens of Baltimore after alleged misconduct led to the death of Freddie Gray in 2015. After a series of recent, violent attacks in broad daylight, a police official ardently promised that any investigation would not contain abuse.
While recent defense of Baltimore has included touting its strong minority population and “diverse” government, Baltimore remains a truly segregated city. Neighborhoods are stitched together almost like a patchwork of socioeconomic imbalance. “Blue light districts” literally mark the neighborhoods where crime and violence are known to be the highest. Many of the tell-tale flashing blue lights appear just steps from Baltimore’s famed downtown Inner Harbor.
Staying out of the blue-light districts, however, is no guarantee of safety. Nearly everyone I knew while living in Baltimore was personally touched by crime and violence at one point or another. Many friends were mugged, attacked, and even shot in crimes the police never solved. A call to the police following a friend’s mugging several years ago resulted in a nearly hourlong wait for police response.
Corruption among the top ranks of Baltimore politicians has long dissuaded local civic participation. It is a city that Democrats rife with scandal have controlled nearly uncontestedly for almost half a century. Legislation disguised as community boosting often contains tax hikes and other sneaking government regulations. Politicians campaign to residents they assume will vote for them entirely based on their identity – and they win.
Then there are the rats. The assertion that Baltimore is infested with rats is entirely accurate. In fact, having also lived in New York City, I can attest that the rats in Baltimore are the biggest I have ever seen. They are bold, and the size of house cats; they do not live in the shadows of night in the subway tracks like they do in NYC. They wander the trash-laden streets at all hours, posing a risk of animal attack and disease spread at an alarming rate.
Baltimore Needs Work to Become Great Again
I could also say wonderful things about Baltimore. Despite the encroaching threat of crime in neighborhoods once declared safe, nothing compares with the waterfront vista of the historic city. Revitalization in neighborhoods such as Fells Point, Harbor East, Canton, Hampden, and Federal Hill beckons visitors to come experience cobblestone streets, world-class seafood, and heavily accented charm.
The Orioles, despite being in a perpetual “rebuilding” phase since 1983, play baseball in Major League Baseball’s best stadium. A MARC train ticket from Washington, D.C., directly to Camden Yards is a mere $8.
Trump’s comments provided a needed truth to be told about a deeply troubled city that needs national attention. I disagree only with his sentiment that “no one would want to live there.” I cherished my time there and proudly share it as part of my history. Many people work tirelessly to make Baltimore a place where people do want to live, and I hope, one day, I will want to live there again.