Baltimore is a corrupt mess

By Randall Poulton | Aug 08, 2019

Living in rural Maine, most of us have very little understanding of city life. Trust me, if you think Portland is a typical city, you are very wrong. Many cities struggle with high crime, drugs, and vacant store fronts. When I heard Donald Trump’s description of Baltimore as “a disgusting rat and rodent-infested hellhole, a corrupt mess that no human being would want to live in," I decided to do a little digging.

Here is some basic background: Baltimore is a the 30th largest city in the USA. It is pretty similar in size and population to Boston, except, since 2010, 80,000 people have moved into Boston, while 25,000 have left Baltimore. Geographically, both cities are ocean ports with a vibrant waterfront.

According to my brother Jay, who lives about 30 miles from Baltimore, Trump’s description was dead on. Baltimore is dirty and rat-infested. City government is corrupt. But the biggest reason people are moving out: Baltimore is a dangerous place to live.

How dangerous? Well, Chicago, which I thought was the “murder capital” of the United States, has a homicide rate of “only” 17.5 per 100,000 citizens. In fact, the city with the highest murder rate is St. Louis, at 59 per 100,000. Baltimore is number two, at 55 per 100,000. For context, the murder rate in Portland is about 3 per 100,000. Jay tells me most of the city is safe to walk about during the day, but after dark — stay out!

How bad is it? Well, just ask the Deputy Police Commissioner Daniel Murphy: He and his wife were out walking on Friday, July 22, around 9 p.m. near Patterson Park, in the Southeast part (the good section) of the city, when a white SUV with four people inside pulled up next to them. Two armed men jumped out and robbed the Murphys of cash, credit cards and cell phones. Murphy says he was lucky not to have been shot.

But the real shooting gallery is the Northwest quadrant of the city, part of Elijah Cummings’ district. Last Sunday alone (July 28), in three separate incidents, six people were shot, four fatally. This section of Baltimore is where no human being wants to live.

The city says there are 16,500 vacant buildings in Baltimore. Vacant, that is, except for the rats and druggies. Other advocates say the true number is closer to 30,000. In the part of Baltimore that is in Cummings’ district, Jay says half the buildings are burned out and boarded-up and have been that way for many years. Think about that for a minute.

And, why is that? Well, for one thing, crime is out of control, in part because the police force is undermanned and demoralized. After the riots stemming from the unfortunate death of Freddie Gray, during which police were ordered to stand down and watch the destruction and looting of their city, about 500 officers quit the force. Finding qualified replacements has proven difficult.

Jay says a sheriff’s deputy in nearby Harford county and a patrolman in Baltimore receive the same pay. Harford is low crime. Baltimore is a war zone. Which job would you want?

Another reason Baltimore is a mess is corruption, and it starts at the top: On April 25, the FBI raided the home and offices of Cathleen Pugh, who just happened to be the mayor of Baltimore. Apparently, Pugh was “selling” her children’s book titled “Healthy Holly” to other quasi-government entities but “forgetting” to claim the income on her taxes. Oh, and she was “forgetting” to deliver the books as well. Pugh has since resigned.

During the riots that started in early April 2015, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake repeatedly told the police to “stand down.” For three weeks, chaos reigned; the city burned and stores were looted. Very bad decision. Rawlings-Blake was run out of office

On Jan. 9, 2009, a Baltimore grand jury charged Sheila A. Dixon with 12 counts of felony theft, perjury, fraud and misconduct in office. You guessed it: Dixon was the mayor. According to Jay, one of her crimes was to “acquire” and cash a bunch of $5 gift cards intended to reward children for reading books. How very nice.

Trump is right, Baltimore is a mess. Others know it and others have said it. The BBC reported: At least 25% of the people in Cummings' congressional district live in poverty. Many houses are "rat infested, and regardless of what you do as a person living there, (you live with) roaches, mice, an epidemic of bed bugs." Baltimore city schools rank among the lowest in the state of Maryland.

Or, if you do not believe the BBC, how about these quotes from Bernie Sanders, made while visiting Northwest Baltimore in 2015: “You would think that you were in a Third World country,” “a community in which half of the people don’t have jobs” and “we’re talking about a community in which there are hundreds of buildings that are uninhabitable.”

And then there's this quote: "What the hell? We should just take all this (vacant buildings) down. You can smell the rats ... you can smell the dead animals." That would be what Mayor Catherine Pugh had to say last year.

So, why would you, or any human being want to live in Baltimore? To sell drugs is the only answer I can come up with.

My brother knows one of the city’s homicide detectives — they both work out at the same gym. Here is a story you will not find elsewhere: Baltimore drug dealers, at least the more reputable ones, have adopted a new system to protect their customers from OD-ing on fentanyl. The problem is, when the dealers get their shipment of heroin, they really have no idea how much deadly fentanyl it may contain. The solution? Give some away to the worst druggies and see what happens. “Free-Zees” is the term for this taste-testing event.

Here is how it works: The dealers hire a very young child (in one case 7 years old) and give him a bunch of packets of heroin to distribute (Free-Zees). If none of the taste-tester addicts die, then the product is deemed safe.

On the other hand, if users OD, then the dealers know to “step on” their shipment, further diluting the lethal power. Should the police care what is going on, busting a 7-year-old is pointless and not worth the paperwork.

Elijah Cummings was right when he called his section of Baltimore a “drug-infested area where … children I watched (grow up are) now walking around like zombies.” A corrupt mess indeed.

Journal columnist Randall Poulton lives in Winterport.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Seth Thayer | Aug 08, 2019 13:24

I am not usually a fan of articles whose main premise is that the author's brother backed him up on his claims.  The author, like many in the GOP who are rushing to back up Mr. Trump's rhetoric, is entirely missing the point of why Mr. Trump's words are so maddening.  Mr. Trump is trashing American citizens and American cities while boasting and praising the world's despots and their countries. This man is President of the United States.  He is supposed to support and encourage the people and the places of the United States.  Instead, he only praises if he is praised first,...and the GOP are like lapdogs to get their praise from this president, the trasher in chief.  If Mr. Cummings had praised Mr. Trump personally, Baltimore would be portrayed as a shining city on a hill.  Mr Trump practices revenge politics.  He does not represent any American but those in his immediate family.

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