Thursday, April 30, 2015

Baltimore And More

In February 2014 the Feral Spouse and I made a day trip to Baltimore, to visit a museum and attend an Alton Brown “concert.” Between the two events we tried finding a nice non-tourist seafood restaurant. Instead, our GPS sent us through the most horridly depressing slums I personally had ever seen — literally entire blocks of once-beautiful row houses absolutely gutted: no windows, rotting roofs, an utter mess. Even more depressing (to me) were the almost-abandoned blocks of row houses — I thought it must be horrible to be that one family, living surrounded by decay on all sides.

At the time, I made a post about this on my Facebook page, and added: “I was recently thinking about the connection between opportunity and geography -- specifically, thinking of the old Chris Rock routine where he imagined what his life would be had he grown up poor in rural South Carolina rather than in subway distance of Manhattan (short version: he'd still be in miserable poverty because the ladder he climbed out of it simply doesn't exist in rural areas). It doesn't look like any such ladder is to be found in those Baltimore slums, either. Had MY childhood and adolescence taken place in Baltimore, I don't know that I'd have had the opportunity to get the hell out of there, either — for all the arguably deprived things about my upbringing, at least I was in an area where, once I turned 18, I had opportunities to not only support myself, but go to school as well. Nothing remotely like those horrid slums of Baltimore.”

To which a Facebook friend responded: “I've only been to rural South Carolina once, but I'm not sure about that linkage. Baltimore is home to one of the country's best universities and hosts some important companies. It has a nice waterfront (thanks to eminent domain). It's an hour from Washington D.C. and a few hours from New York....”

But I was not impressed. “Given that there's no subway or any other affordable mass transit from Baltimore to DC, the fact that they're only 50 miles or so apart doesn't matter, from the perspective of someone living in one of those awful rotting row houses. (Chris Rock needed only a cheap subway pass to get from the projects to the opportunity-rich parts of Manhattan.) That 'nice waterfront' is nifty for the tourists, but what jobs it generates don't pay well at all. … Baltimore has some nice universities which offer zero benefit to those who can't afford the monstrous-high tuitions (especially high from the perspective of, say, someone who's never earned more than 10 percent above the minimum wage, ever). And all this is without opening various law-enforcement worm-cans — how much racist harassment do those poor (and very dark-skinned) row-house residents receive from the cops who allegedly protect and serve them? I've not checked the statistics, but I'm willing to bet the answer is, 'a lot'.”
Now it's 14 months later, and had I been allowed to put actual money behind that bet, I'd be a rich woman today. (Or at least less poor than I am; the Feral Spouse has been out of work for a year now.)

I'm disgusted but not surprised to see the same double standard in Baltimore that applied in Ferguson last summer: no matter how many times cops abuse their authority, they're always individual bad apples and it's thoroughly unfair and dishonest to criticize all cops, the police unions and/or "the system" for their behavior. But any protestors and/or rioters, by contrast, are a single collective entity: if one of them sets a fire, that means all of them are arsonists.

It would be nice if the murder of Freddie Gray and the protests, then riots, which followed ultimately resulted in needed changes to the system; for starters, how about we introduce the radical notion of “individual police accountability?” Since police have legal authority over ordinary citizens, and legal privileges denied ordinary citizens, those police who break the law should therefore face harsher consequences than an individual citizen who breaks the same law.

Being a cop is a privilege, not a right, and those who abuse their legal privileges need to have them revoked.


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