Baltimore resident: We need a miracle
06 May 2015, 10:47
Baltimore - Tidying up in the looted and
ransacked lobby of the payday loan firm where she works, Brandi Myers looked
out at her devastated Baltimore community and pondered what it would take to
"A miracle, a blessing. God? Some
help? I don't know," said the 28-year-old manager of Ace Cash Express, one
of more than 250 shops and businesses that were looted, burned or otherwise
harmed in her city's worst rioting in decades.
"If we don't have the resources to fix
all this, I feel for Baltimore."
So do many residents of Charm City, where
spasms of violence after the death in police custody of an African-American man
have highlighted the wealth gap in one of the poorest cities in the United
But when the national spotlight fades,
Baltimore confronts a piercing question: how do its impoverished, neglected
Federal, state and local leaders converged
on Baltimore on Tuesday to discuss ways to rehabilitate communities.
But the head of the economic development
arm of Maryland's most important urban hub was not among them.
Bill Cole, president of Baltimore
Development Corporation (BDC) was taking a more pro-active approach, joining
the mayor in walking the streets, making sure looted neighbourhood shops had
what they needed to reopen and strategising over the future of a city less than
an hour's drive from the US capital, Washington.
They met with owners impacted by the
unrest, helping them fill out claim applications, explaining grant procedures
and offering micro-loans.
"Those small businesses are critical
for the vitality and health of the city," Cole told AFP.
While rehabilitating those shops is the
short-term priority, "our long-term goal obviously is to look for
additional ways to create job opportunities," he said.
And that rehabilitation - including
rebuilding a $60m senior centre that was under construction but went up in
flames in the heat of violent riots on April 27 - will not come cheap.
"It's billions, with a B," Cole
said of the investment dollars needed for Baltimore's poorer neighbourhoods.
Left in limbo
Baltimore is one of several urban centres
hit hard by deadly riots in 1968 following the murder of civil rights leader
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Larry Washington, 90, lived through it
then, and now.
"To me, it doesn't make sense,"
he said of the latest riots.
"You don't prove yourself by
destroying. You've got to prove yourself by building."
While the city has reinvented itself as a
technology innovation centre and world-class port, many of its poorer neighbourhoods
never recovered from 1968.
They were left in limbo by a system that
rewards thriving areas such as Baltimore's Inner Harbour and leaves communities
such as Penn North with boarded up row houses, crumbling infrastructure, unsafe
schools and few jobs.
"What is glaring for this community is
economic development, or the absence thereof," added Jamal Bryant, the
African-American pastor of Empowerment Temple.
He noted that 62% of residents of West
Baltimore, where much of the rioting occurred, live on some level of public
Bryant said the community is not looking
for more handouts; they're seeking a job-training centre, better education in
schools, and partnership from city leaders.
"I'm not asking for giving everybody a
million dollars. People want to work and don't have the opportunity to
work," said Bryant, who is bursting with economic ideas.
"Give me six blocks in that community
and do solar panelling," he said only half-jokingly.
BDC's Cole said hope abounds for the city,
with investors and developers insisting they were not deterred by the riots.
"They told me 'We're not backing down,
we're fully committed, we want to be part of the solution,'" Cole said.
'Investors will come'
He pointed to the Mondawmin Mall, where
teens clashed with police last week.
Cole was on hand when the mall reopened
Sunday, and said that of the more than a dozen shops hit by looting there, all
but two were back in business.
Marin Alsop, music director of the
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, interpreted the riots as "a cry for
help" from a community whose deteriorating conditions over the decades has
led to "resentment, anger and oppression."
But she insisted that once the city begins
healing, "I know the investors will come."
Back at the leaders' roundtable, civic
figures and lawmakers brainstormed initiatives to improve police-community ties
and kick-start development.
"They don't want us to just layer on
what's been happening in the past," said Maryland's US Senator Ben Cardin,
who attended the discussion.
"They really want a new approach that
involves the community and making decisions on how resources are used."