Donald Trump is right; too many American cities are facing daily carnage.
Let’s give our president credit where it’s due. In his inaugural address President Donald Trump brought something to the battle against urban violence that long has been needed: a sense of outrage over the plight of inner-city residents trapped in poverty and victimized by an epidemic of murder. Bombast or not, his use of the word “carnage” appropriately conveyed the need for a sense of urgency in tackling the crisis that has been conspicuously absent among many of our local, state and national leaders, including those in Maryland.
In his speech, Mr. Trump referred to the “different reality” that exists for mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities where decent jobs are non-existent and where dysfunctional schools leave “young and beautiful students” deprived of knowledge and where “crime and the gangs and the drugs … have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.” Mr. Trump dramatically proclaimed that “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
The self-consciously cerebral editorial boards of newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post accused Mr. Trump of overstating the problem. In attacking the president for a “graceless and disturbingly ahistoric vision of America,” the New York Times referred to Mr. Trump’s description of inner city violence as a “sweeping exaggeration” at odds with the fact that crime in general remains far lower than in past decades. The Washington Post accused Mr. Trump of painting a “false picture of an impoverished, crime-ridden country,” although conceding that Mr. Trump’s “dystopia” may exist in some places.
Yeah, like in a significant number of neighborhoods in Baltimore. Maybe the bluebloods who write editorials from their offices on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan and K Street in Washington would like to take a walk in the Coldstream Homestead Montebello or Belair-Edison neighborhoods in Baltimore. On second thought, taking a walk through those neighborhoods is not such a great idea, but they can take look at some statistics from the safety of their desks.
A report by Justin George of The Baltimore Sun last year revealed that in the previous five years there had been 75 shootings in Coldstream Homestead Montebello, 32 of them fatal; in Belair-Edison 92 shootings, 33 deadly. Baltimore has started 2017 averaging one homicide per day. If that is not carnage, what is it?
The editorials by the Times and the Post missed the bigger picture: the need for an end to the business-as-usual attitude of our political leaders in which the daily violence on city streets almost is accepted as an immutable fact of urban life. Why not view Mr. Trump’s statement on the issue as a rallying cry for immediate and concerted action that should be echoed by state and local officials? Sometimes you need passion to drive solutions to complex problems; it is part of leadership.
Several weeks ago, The Sun published an editorial that admonished Baltimore officials to start acting like the city is in a homicide crisis, because it is. The governor needs to step forward as well, and city and state leaders need to actually do something. I have a suggestion: Why not a state summit on the crisis? I don’t mean one more forum for pontificating and hand wringing; I mean something scholarly and useful that results in the commitment of city and state leaders to a long term plan with specific goals and objectives against which progress can be measured.
Ask the dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work to chair the summit, because the underlying problems are socioeconomic in nature. In some sense the consent decree between the city and the Department of Justice regarding the Baltimore Police Department has become a distraction. Solving the problem of police misconduct is important, but it is not going to change the fact that in Baltimore too many young black men are lost to life on the streets by the time they are 12 or 13.
Gov. Larry Hogan can deliver the keynote address. If he does, he could do a lot worse than borrow the words of President Trump in referring to citizens who live in neighborhoods like Coldstream Homestead Montebello and Belair-Edison: “We are one nation and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams. And their success will be our success.” A productive summit and words like that might give us something else that has been in short supply in Baltimore as the murder rate continues unabated: Hope.
January 28, 2017
[Published as an op ed by The Baltimore Sun on January 28, 2017 but not posted to my blog until May 18, 2017. The date of posting that appears above was backdated to place all posts in the order in which they were written.]