IDEAS From The CBC

Tuesday, April 4 at 2:00 pm

The Shadow Of Charm City

IDEAS takes us to Baltimore - once named “Charm City” is now often known as a war zone - due to racial tensions. 

In a bid to instill civic pride forty years ago, Baltimore was officially named "Charm City". Today, some call Baltimore a war zone - over 300 homicides per year amid 16,000 vacant homes.  And the death of an African-American man in police custody in 2015 sparked the worst urban riots since the 1960's. IDEAS producer Mary O'Connell takes us inside America's great racial divide. **This episode originally aired October 24, 2016.

On April 12, 2015 Freddie Gray was arrested by police in one of Baltimore's poorest neighbourhoods. During that arrest, the 25-year-old semi-literate drug dealer was badly injured. A week later he died. An autopsy report concluded he'd been murdered. His voice-box was smashed, his spine almost severed. And Baltimore became the next flash-point for police brutality in America. Civil unrest, not seen since the 1960's exploded. Seventy buildings were looted or set ablaze. Hundreds were arrested.  Activists called it "The Black Spring", referring to it as an uprising rather than a riot. In the aftermath, the political and media classes asked, why did this happen? 

A 2016 Department of Justice report investigating the Baltimore Police Department, revealed what some call, a "conspiracy against black citizens". The federal report concluded the force routinely violated the constitutional rights of African-Americans, arresting people for simply standing in front of their houses or on a street-corner. Ex-police sergeant Michael Wood calls this, "modern-day slave-catching". Since the 2015 murder of Freddie Gray, the city's homicide rate set a record. Baltimore is a little larger than Hamilton, Ontario but last year registered 344 murders -- Hamilton had six. 

Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute says Baltimore has become one of America's most segregated cities and it's inequality that is driving police brutality. He says, "there is more inequality between blacks and whites in America today than there was in the 1960's". Black annual income is about 60% of what whites make, and the personal wealth of blacks is 5% compared to that of white America.

Throughout Baltimore sit poor neighbourhoods with crumbling housing inventory. Looking more like post WW2 Dresden, Baltimore has 16,000 empty or abandoned row houses. Beyond urban decay and economic inequality, Liberals argue that if the people in power look more like those they govern this will curb or end police brutality. But Baltimore, which is 63% black, has an African-American mayor, police chief, police commissioner and largely black city council. Attorney Billy Murphy Jr., a legend in Baltimore, believes black leadership has been, a "colossal failure". Rampant careerism he says, has neutralized the struggle for change. However, Billy Murphy thinks the violence that exploded in Baltimore, following the killing of Freddie Gray, has created fear amongst whites and that fear is the spark for meaningful change. 

Guests in the program:

  • J. Wyndal Gordon, Baltimore attorney
  • Michael Wood, former Baltimore Police Sgt, public lecturer on police reform, Ph.D candidate
  • Wardell Barksdale Jr., retired teacher, counsellor
  • Billy Murphy Jr., Baltimore attorney, public lecturer
  • Richard Rothstein, research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, fellow of the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund
  • Dawn Ollivierre, substance abuse counsellor, Baltimore
  • Vanessa Williams, program director of The Club (after school program) and The Ark (preschool for homeless children) Baltimore

To listen to the audio of “The Shadow of Charm City” on IDEAS From The CBC online, please click HERE.