When Alex Ulrich was killed in a double shooting in Baltimore last week, the city sat up and took notice. A vigil at the Washington Monument drew hundreds of mourners who celebrated Ulrich’s life, denounced violence, and honored the shooting’s other victim, popular Mount Vernonite Larry Peterson (who was critically injured but is recovering).
All too clearly, the shooting highlights the fact that despite many positive trends, Baltimore remains a city with way too many drugs, guns, and violent incidents. But does it also point to a deeper, more insidious issue? In a city where hundreds are murdered every year, this shooting was different than most. Alex Ulrich was white, middle aged, and walking in a neighborhood that is generally considered safe. That’s why the reaction to his death has been so great — and that’s part of what’s wrong with our city, writes Baltimore City Paper’s new editor, Evan Serpick:
Week in, week out, people are killed—seven people were murdered in Baltimore City in the week before Ulrich was killed. The stories are given little coverage in the local media—did you hear anything about those seven people killed last week? If I wasn’t editing Murder Ink, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have. But when a white person is killed or is the victim of a serious crime, as with the hapless tourist whose beating and robbery were captured on downtown security cameras earlier this year, it is front-page news, and the source of angst: Is our city safe? It’s hard not to translate the subtext of that angst to, Is our city safe for white people? Because if the general population was concerned about whether or not the city was safe for black people, there would be a whole lot more vigils and angst.
So, what’s to be done? Serpick advocates a practical solution — greater police presence in dangerous neighborhoods where murders are common (Sandtown-Winchester), as opposed to ones where they’re rare (Mt. Vernon). But what about the lack of outrage — the absence of vigils, minimal media coverage, and lack of name recognition — on behalf of other victims? Ours remains city divided along all sorts of lines (race, class, education, etc.); it’s easy to identify only with people who fit in our own categories. When they die tragically, we think That could’ve been me! But just because someone who got killed doesn’t look like you doesn’t make their death any less tragic.
I understand that sometimes we have to walk through this city with our blinders on. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism, or a strategy for getting through the day, or maybe it’s laziness. But I get what Serpick is saying — and it doesn’t make me feel good at all.