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Why Baltimore Blew Up


Stashed in: The Wire, Crime!, America!, Rolling Stone!, Poverty, @mtaibbi

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How something that sounds as awesome as "community policing" has turned into a system of punitive social control of the poor that the educated classes rarely see.

There really are two Americas. 

Go to any predominantly minority neighborhood in any major American city and you'll hear the same stories: decades of being sworn at, thrown against walls, kicked, searched without cause, stripped naked on busy city streets, threatened with visits from child protective services, chased by dogs, and arrested and jailed not merely on false pretenses, but for reasons that often don't even rise to the level of being stupid....

Baltimore always seemed grittier to me because of its portrayal in The Wire and Homicide.

Taibbi seems to be saying that Baltimore is like every other city in America.

This system, now standard in almost all of urban America, is Mayberry on one side and trending Moscow or 1980s South Africa on the other. Why? Because America loves to lie to itself about race. It's able to do so for many reasons, including the little-discussed fact that most white people have literally no social interactions with black people, so they don't hear about this every day.

Police brutality is tough to talk about because white and black America see the issue so differently, with white Americans still overwhelmingly supportive and trustful of law enforcement. But the current controversy is as much about how modern law-enforcement practices have ruined the job of policing as it is about racism. There are plenty of good cops out there, but the way policing works in cities like Baltimore, the bad ones can thrive. And disasters aren't just more likely, they're inevitable.

Baltimore is like a lot of American cities. It has a small, spiffy-looking downtown with a couple of nice ballparks and some Zagat-listed restaurants for the tourists to visit. But outside those few blocks, much of it is a dead zone. Whole sections of town are packed with crumbling, trash-infested row houses, and this pothole-strewn mess is where people are somehow expected to live. The drug trade has historically dominated Baltimore's ghettos. But the city is so screwed these days, jokes one African-American resident, that "even the drug game is dead." 

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