Media Paints Inaccurate Portrayal of Baltimore

Kyle Tribble, Contributing Writer

All my life, my mother has stressed to me the importance of having “common sense.” Whether it was getting my homework in on time, treating my elders with respect or simply making responsible choices, there have been myriad lessons my mom has imbued in me during my short life, most of which I still follow today. Yet one lesson has always stuck with me, plastered to the back of my mind: Avoid the police. When I was a child, this meant little more than staying within eyesight of my mom and speaking only when spoken to. When I entered adolescence, it meant dressing nicely and behaving myself. And now, as an adult, it has come to mean driving slowly with the music down, not walking alone at night, never looking “suspicious” and never, under any circumstances, challenging or confronting the police. Ignoring these directives, according to my parents, could leave me in jail, a hospital or, worse yet, a grave. For many, such extreme consequences may seem foreign, unwarranted or even excessive. Yet I am certain my mother’s lessons in “common sense” are more than familiar to others in Black communities, particularly those found in my hometown of Baltimore, MD.

I’ve lived in and around Baltimore my entire life, bouncing between the suburbs of Randallstown, Greenspring Avenue near Druid Hill Park and Mondawmin and eventually Catonsville in southwest Baltimore County. Because of this, I frequently have had the opportunity to be a witness to several facets of Baltimore simultaneously. From middle school onward, I went to private school in the wealthy, white area of Baltimore called Roland Park, though I was still living in a ’hood near Druid Hill. Every morning I’d don my uniform and make the 10 minute commute, leaving my completely Black neighborhood to study Latin and Shakespeare with rich white kids from all over the county. However, whether I was living in the city proper or in the greater Baltimore County area, and even if I was surrounded by carefree white friends, my relationship with the police remained uneasy and untrustworthy.

In Baltimore, it is simply understood that if you are Black and it can be helped, you don’t call the police. The BPD has always been more of a threat than a helping hand and a hindrance rather than a source of confidence. The police exist to hurt you, not protect you. It should come as no surprise, then, that the protests and riots that have occurred have been so pointedly furious — what has happened this week is indicative of a long, upward battle that residents of Baltimore have fought in relation to our police force, economic hardships and weak elected officials doing little to protect Baltimore’s citizens. Parts of Baltimore look like the result of some ancient nuclear war, leaving blocks of townhouses and business boarded up and abandoned. Around a quarter of Baltimore’s population lives in poverty, with many families living as the victims of appalling unemployment rates and poor education. Yet despite a frustrating, decades-long history of hardship and amidst the anger, violence and destruction that took place during the riots on Monday night, my fellow Baltimoreans reminded the world of something that I have known to be true all my life: Though we are a city often divided, we care deeply, passionately and honestly about our town and are more than willing to unite in peace to protect it.

There seems to be some widely held belief that Baltimore is one of the worst places on earth, a stain on America’s East Coast. The media wants you to believe that Baltimore is nothing more than The Wire: a wasteland of a city made up of nothing more than criminals and back-alley drug dealing. CNN wants you to believe that we are only capable of being violent, that cars burning and stores getting looted was all that happened this week. Let me make this clear to you right now — Baltimore is a place filled with beautiful, intelligent people who want more than anything for our city to succeed.

Over 10,000 marched peacefully in the past week, uniting in opposition to the systemic police brutality that Baltimore and the U.S. are plagued with. Unsurprisingly, however, most news outlets chose to ignore this fact, focusing solely on the violent few taking advantage of the inherent disorder involved in such a massive uprising. Headline after headline told of the “chaos in Baltimore,” coupled with images of a teen smashing a police vehicle, a CVS aflame and depictions of Black looters raiding some roadside store. What many media outlets overlooked, however, was a protester protecting a line of policemen from rioters, a Vietnam vet asking kids to stay home, local community organizers absolutely destroying Fox News and CNN correspondents on live television and rival gangs ignoring their differences to peacefully protest and protect local businesses amidst the violence seen Monday night.

Many flooded the streets accompanied not by the noise of aggression and destruction but by the sound of music and dance and with hopeful hearts and smiling faces. This week, despite national news depicting our city as a war zone filled with “thugs,” local news brought light to several articulate, passionate Baltimorean organizers fighting in the name of peace. And though so many people who have never set foot in Baltimore seem to have a loud, negative opinion of my town this week, I have seen nothing but love spread from a people who share little more than an area code and a sports team.

In a city of neighborhoods, where simply crossing the street can land you in either a ghetto or a chic shopping plaza, Baltimore can often be a tense and divided community. But when it’s time to protect its own, Charm City has always stood strong and always will.