Baltimoreans love Baltimore like Texans love Texas. Maybe more. And everyone loves the birds — Canton, Sandtown, Fed Hill, it doesn’t matter…tourists, if you walk around in a Ravens or Orioles hat, at least one person will stop you to tell you how we’re gonna win it all this year. They’ll assume you’re at least semi-local, even if you stick out in whatever district you’re in. If watching the news has made you doubt the love people feel for Baltimore, just stop. There are a lot of problems in Baltimore, and I’ll write about them later. But this post is about my experiences walking around Balto yesterday.
When you come into Baltimore from the 295, the first thing you really see are the Ravens and Orioles stadiums. After you pass the stadiums you can make a right hand turn and go to the Inner Harbor, or go straight and left and end up in West Baltimore. I went right, and this is what I saw:
The parking lots for the stadiums are being used as camps, complete with medic tents. Restaurants and stores were closed indefinitely (though it appears many things opened today). Did anyone else notice how last night the news anchors asked where the National Guard was when it was after curfew? Now you know – they were busy protecting the wealthy and touristy areas.
Then we backtracked over to Penn-North. We got caught up in a peaceful march before we hit the now famous intersection, so we left the car and joined them. The intersection was packed – it honestly reminded me of a festival. People were holding hands and praying, others were singing, some were playing drums. There were some arguments but none of them turned violent (even the ones condoning the rioting), and people would hug each other after talking it out. It was everything a peaceful protest should be, and it was very much a celebration of shared love and pride in the city, and it was beautiful.
Especially interesting to watch was an argument with one person saying rioting was okay, since the businesses weren’t black owned and there should be a focus on using business that are black owned or that pay black employees well (my favorite quote: “No one WANTS to work at CVS and make $8. They HAVE to. And that’s all we have.”). While I don’t support physically destroying other businesses, I agree with his point. Why patronize the places that pay you and your friends absolute shit just because they can? He kept explaining himself, but kept condoning the riots instead of community boycott. While his argument was with one woman, other people kept stepping in. One girl pointed out she lived here, but worked in a bar across town. Now she’s making $0, because the bars are closed. Another pointed out that now people can’t eat because they can’t find places that are selling food. Perhaps the pro-riot guy just wanted to end the conversation, but I watched him be tripped up their points. He seemed to relent, and the once heated argument ended in a hug with both parties agreeing they just want to improve their neighborhood.
The other side of the blockade was at North and Carey, and it was definitely a different vibe. The police were lined up, and over here they had bearcats in between the riot police. Other than me, my friend, and a couple members of foreign media it was relatively empty. The only other people were those who lived in the neighborhood doing their daily business like walking their dogs or trying to find somewhere open to buy food. This end of the blockade was definitely more tense — at one point during the day, some people threw some bottles and tried to throw a trash can at police. Certainly nothing crazy or rioting, but I was still thankful when it was quickly shut down by other people.
I stayed at North and Carey until about 9 pm. For almost the entire time I was there, an activist named Joseph Kent was standing in front of the cops. He moved cones and helped their food delivery trucks back in, he acted as a liaison with angry community members. We talked to him a bit, and he told us about his experiences in Ferguson and how it’s different now that it’s in his own hometown. I personally guarantee you every single officer knew who he was. There wasn’t much going on at our end, and the cops were asking to pet people’s dogs and talking baseball with civilians. They were bored. They had nothing to focus on. Joseph Kent was not a blip on their radar as they anxiously did important things. No, they mostly stared slack jawed straight ahead, and he was there. So tell me why at 6:39 they were sharing their water bottles with him, and at 10:39 they weren’t just arresting him, but blocking the media from filming it as they threw him in the vehicle. Yes, I understand he was violating curfew — but was that necessary? No. He has since obtained a lawyer who will be giving a press conference tonight.
Other than the Kent arrest (which obviously happened after I was gone), I didn’t see much that alarmed me. If you live nearby, please go. Go have a crabcake at Faidley’s (because Lexington Market was a ghost town when I got lunch), go buy some groceries in the city and drop off some food for those who can’t get groceries, go eat lunch out and leave a big tip since so many folks who work in restaurants will be losing money this week.