Type to search

In Baltimore, Riots Appear Where Urban Renewal Didn’t

National News Top News Tribune News Service

In Baltimore, Riots Appear Where Urban Renewal Didn’t

Baltimore police

By Noah Bierman and Joseph Tanfani, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

BALTIMORE — Tanishia Lewis and her young children were filling trash bags in a parking lot Tuesday morning, joining others who hoped to quickly erase the scars left by rioters. But the problems in her West Baltimore neighborhood run much deeper than a night of burning and looting, and won’t be easily scrubbed away.

“I have to go outside my community to go to the supermarket,” she said. “I don’t feel safe for my kids playing in the playground.

“There are some really good people here,” said Lewis, 31, who works for a nonprofit community group and still lives in the neighborhood where she grew up. But “there’s no investment.”

Downtown Baltimore has seen large-scale projects dating to the 1990s — a popular aquarium and a trendsetting baseball stadium, to name two — that have turned the Inner Harbor into a prime example of urban renewal, admired and imitated by city planners around the nation.

But the poor neighborhoods of West Baltimore that formed the epicenter of this week’s riots could be mistaken for parts of Detroit. Block upon block of three-story row houses lie vacant, with smashed-in windows, boarded doors and garbage. In the commercial blocks, a yellow ribbon promising “Coming soon: 99 cent store!” is faded and frayed, placed above one of many storefronts that have only shards of glass in the window pane. A few shops that remain in business cash checks, sell discount cellphone plans, and rent furniture.

Until Monday, there had been one bright spot amid the despair: a relatively new CVS pharmacy, hardly a luxury showcase but good enough to fill prescriptions and sell milk in a neighborhood that had little.

Now, after it was burned by rioters Monday, it is a bleak symbol, the spot where angry protesters, police in riot gear, and live television trucks converge to tell a story of an American city in distress.

“This is a ghost town. The only store we have, they burned down,” said Ashley Ewell, a 27-year-old debt consolidator, standing near looters this week.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake lamented the lost jobs in a neighborhood that badly needs them.

“What are they going to do?” she said.

It’s no coincidence that the incident that touched off the unrest happened just six blocks from the CVS. Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old who died last week after he was injured in police custody, was a product of this neighborhood too.

Gray is the latest and most incendiary example of the mutual distrust between police and many black Americans. Some Baltimore residents, echoing complaints from other troubled cities, say the police act almost as a force of occupiers instead of public servants.

“They’re more like an overseer,” said Damon Speaks, a black property manager here who said police once chased him, rather than a white burglar, when he reported that an intruder had broken into one of his buildings.

But Gray’s family decries the violent retaliation of Monday’s riots.

“They say they’re doing all this for my cousin,” said Jazz Aiken, 19, while buying a grape snow cone a few blocks from the CVS on Tuesday. “But that’s not why they doing it.

“You’ve got some people that don’t got jobs,” she said.

This neighborhood, site of the gritty television drama The Wire, has followed a familiar pattern of urban decay: a decline of good jobs, interstate highways that ripped across historical enclaves, and public housing projects that became magnets for crime.

Generations of families who have grown up here in poverty say the brutal 1968 race riots that followed the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. have become part of the neighborhood’s narrative fabric, and the community has never fully recovered.

For four days that year, the city was under virtual siege, with bombs going off, buildings burned and looters rampaging. There were hundreds of injuries and thousands of arrests, and federal troops had to be called in to bring the city under control.

“History repeats itself, I guess,” said Briana Moore, 22, a junior at Coppin State University in Baltimore, as looters raided the nearby Mondawmin Mall. “To me this is stupid. This is not going to solve anything. Breaking into malls, breaking into liquor stores, what does this have to do with Freddie Gray? This ain’t about justice no more.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. on Tuesday walked past the burned CVS store, handing out voter registration forms, as a scrum of reporters and residents trailed him.

“People need houses, health care, jobs, and education,” he said. “That costs, but it costs a lot more not to do it.”

Robert Everett, a 51-year-old construction worker, grew up hearing tales from his relatives about the heyday of Pennsylvania Avenue, the neighborhood’s main artery, when it was filled with clubs featuring Cab Calloway and Fats Waller. A statue of Billie Holiday, who spent her childhood in Baltimore, stands near a theater where she performed.

“I ain’t ever seen nothing like this,” Everett said. “It’s crazy, man, just crazy.”

Lewis, the community group worker who spent Tuesday cleaning up, lives on what she said is a good and safe block. She believes there are some subtle signs of gentrification: a few more Latino and white residents than she remembers and a proposal to knock down a housing development and replace it with a more modern complex of retail and residential units.

Even though she earned a college degree in social work and might have more options than others, she does not plan to leave.

“It’s where I’m from,” Lewis said. “I know it’s going to change soon for the better.”

Then she paused, as if to convince herself. “Hopefully soon.”

(Staff writers W.J. Hennigan and David Lauter contributed to this report.)

(c)2015 Tribune Co., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Baltimore police officers standby on Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)



  1. Dominick Vila April 29, 2015

    I believe the increased incidence of abuse against ethnic minorities by the police must be investigated, and the adequacy of existing law enforcement recruitment policies, training, re-training, and policies designed to improve the morale and remuneration of police officers are in desperate need to scrutiny and change.
    However, pretending that what we saw in Baltimore two days ago was an aberration is beyond being disingenuous. First of all, the criminal activities carried out by hoodlums, thugs, immature teenagers, or whatever we want to call those who engaged in looting, destruction of property, and who went as far as compromising the safety of firefighters by puncturing the fire hoses they were using to save property and, potently, an entire neighborhood, is neither unprecedented nor the work of little kids who feel deprived or have nothing to entertain themselves with. The people that engaged in the acts of destruction we all saw deserve to be arrested, tried, and if found guilty, imprisoned. Society cannot and should not tolerate acts of anarchy like the ones we saw, and rejection of law and order.
    Suggesting that what happened in Baltimore is the result of Freddy Gray’s murder, or the result of many years of abuse and inadequate response by our Justice Department, local authorities, or social irresponsibility, only fosters more violence.

    1. Alvin Harrison April 29, 2015


      People reach a point where enough is enough….then they explode. How many stories of police killing black people did you think it was going to take before it reached this point….again. Unless you are Black in the USA you will never understand the violent response. NEVER…unless…

      You think back to various other times in America when people had just had enough. America’s revolution comes to mind. The civil war comes to mind. These were times when WHITE Americans had decided that their rights had been infringed upon enough and the “diplomatic” measures were not redressing their perceived grievances….so they declared WAR on the British and each other. In order to avoid admitting that blacks have REAL issues that have not been addressed and that the same issues seem to keep raising their ugly heads, many whites in this country deplore only the violence and not the root causes.

      Since the Michael Brown death, how many black men have died at the hands of the police….how many have to die. It is not like Blacks have not tried the peaceful route. They have tried it over and over….yet the young men keep dying. I can understand some White people not liking this violent response….it is messy and it is not their son’s who are dying. These are white people with good hearts…but they just don’t understand…..but they will soon.

      You see, America is becoming a police state. White people have just not had a reason to say enough is enough….but they will. And when they do, they will feel the same rage at injustice that Blacks are feeling now. How can I say this?….remember Occupy Wall Street…peaceful protest by the “early adopters” of the need for social change in America….mostly young and white. The response by those in power… draconian. No deaths, but pretty heavy duty for protesting kids. As the wealth gap widens, wages fall, and America moves closer to a ruling class and the ruled….cracks will start to appear….protests will follow and police will respond…with the now usual measures…Whites will finally understand what grinding poverty and hopelessness is like, and they will fight back….protest and riot. Think not? Remember the history lessons above?

      But to get back on point…there is a simple solution. We can talk about the various reasons we have this problem until we are blue in the face while doing nothing. We can put body cameras on the police, we can have a zillion review boards. The methods discussed have been many, all of them good, as discussions/ But how about we try this… Police…stop killing innocent black people. There, problem solved. If you laugh and say “it isn’t that easy”….Really? Think about that a while.

      1. Dominick Vila April 29, 2015

        My point is very simple, there are better ways to voice our outrage at what is happening in the USA than loot, destroy, and puncture fire hoses being used to save your neighborhood.
        I understand why African Americans are sick and tired of what has been happening for so many years, I understand and support the need to protest and demand justice; but I don’t support acts of violence, the destruction of property and looting. If anything, what those youngsters did in Baltimore undermine the effectiveness of protests by projecting an image that justifies the use of force.
        I am also convinced that most of the rioters were more interested in taking advantage of a tragedy to get something for nothing, and have a little “fun” in the process, than expressing outrage over things that evoke the days when lynchings were commonplace.

        1. Alvin Harrison April 29, 2015

          Outrage makes people act without thinking of the consequences….

          1. Dominick Vila April 29, 2015

            I agree, but that does not mean it is the best way to go, that it is justified, or that it is in the best interests of those seeking justice. Moreover, I doubt most of the kids involved in the looting, destruction of property, or irrational behavior, acted because of injustices against African Americans. The religious and civic leaders that tried to calm down the rioters, and the mother who disciplined her out of control son, deserve more praise and respect than those who engaged in criminal acts, and whose behavior undermined the ability to demand justice for the victims of police brutality.

          2. Alvin Harrison April 29, 2015

            Dominik…you are good guy and honestly believe what you are saying is with the best of intentions…I REALLY do…but you will NEVER be able to feel the frustration of being Black in America. It is your life 24/7…in the case of these young people, one of living in poverty, family structures destroyed by 400 years of slavery and oppression, second class citizens with little hope. For the males… suspicion, targeting and being killed by police…with no justice. And their hopes and dreams?…no jobs, prison or worse. To escape that requires a person and family life that dodged the bullet, so yes there are some who have. But you cannot expect everyone to be extraordinary.

            These are the people that America has used and then forgotten. They have been expected to come back from horrific circumstances with little or no help. They had to suffer police and dogs and the hatred of their fellow citizens just to have the LAW give them equality, even though they are still denied it by a huge number of their fellow citizens.

            As I said at first…I do not like violence…but you know…you can kick a dog only so much before he bites. and you know…none of this would have even taken place if another black man had not been killed while in the custody of the police. You may not like the method these kids chose out of frustration, but NO ONE seems to be able to be able to stop the killings or better their situation…So I understand.

          3. 788eddie April 30, 2015

            Dominick, Alvin, you both have good points. My hope is that positive movement can come out of productive discussion.

            And let’s pray for the health of our democracy.

          4. Alvin Harrison April 30, 2015

            Amen…This is the kind of discussion like…no name calling, no disrespecting the ideas of others….I wish they could all be like this.

  2. porter April 30, 2015

    Dominick I along with a majority of black American feel the same way, What those criminal did needs o be punish to he full ex tent o the law. This protest was about and still is, Mr. Grays treatment while in the hands of the police . burning down a senior center, and a C,V.S. is not .THAT IS WHAT MAKES ME MAD that a few malcontents can take the focus on what need to be addressed not only in Baltimore but all over this nation I live in Richmond V.A. the capital of he old south and in my 57 years I can say this if their, a problem between the police and the public it’s taken for real. A black city manager had some negative comments to say about the black youths when rich became murder capital U.S.A. he was fired the next week and move back to cali. do we have problems between police and public yes but the difference is respect between the two. and the fact that sme of our police live in the hoods they patrol


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.