On Friday, Baltimore businesswoman Tracey Halvorsen published an article on Medium that went viral and sparked an impassioned cyber-discussion about crime and class privilege in Baltimore City.
In Halvorsen’s heartfelt personal essay “Baltimore City, You’re Breaking My Heart” is a litany of local tragedies — mostly in Southeast Baltimore — and political headscratchers surrounding the city’s crime problem that could make a resident want to get the heck out.
It goes like this:
“I’m tired of living in a major crime zone while paying the highest property taxes in the state.”
“I’m tired of hearing about incompetent city leaders who are more fixated on hosting the Grand Prix than dealing with thousands of vacant buildings that create massive slums, and rampant crime.”
“I’m tired of checking in on neighbor and Baltimore Sun editor Jon Fogg’s Go Fund Me page to see if his family has met their goal to raise funds to help him recover from the brutal attack he suffered as he went from his car to his front door after work.”
Halvorsen calls Baltimore’s crime rate “the elephant in the room,” calls out city officials for willfully ignoring it, and prescribes “more cops” to curb it.
Many identified with Halvorsen’s frustrations and shared the article with gusto. Baltimore magazine called it “a moving essay.” Others took issue with the article’s class implications and questionable reasoning. And so came the rebuttals, which also made the rounds on social media.
In “Whose Heart Is Baltimore Breaking, Really?” Lawrence Lanahan argues that Halvorsen’s piece demonstrates the city’s class and racial divide by focusing on uncommonly horrific incidents in largely white, largely upper-middle class neighborhoods that are virtually status quo elsewhere in Baltimore. In response to Halvorsen’s plea for “more cops” and more arrests for “littering or loitering or being publicly intoxicated” — at least in her neighborhood — Lanahan writes,
“Baltimore tried that; in 2005, over 100,000 people were arrested…and one out of four was released without charges. More arrests mean more racial disparities, which you’ll find in drug arrests and at every level of the juvenile justice system. (In fact, federal law insists the state measure those juvenile disparities and make plans to address them. The state can lose federal funding if its efforts fall short.) All the stopping and frisking in the world isn’t likely to stop crime, and it certainly won’t end the inequalities that drive crime.”
In Lanahan’s view, “Crime is not the ‘elephant in the room.’ It’s all anyone talks about here. The elephant in the room is inequality.”
Tim Barnett posted a strident rebuttal, “Baltimore City: You’re Not Breaking My Heart,” that takes issue with the very premise of the original piece and faults Halvorsen for loving Baltimore only conditionally. “What breaks my heart,” Barnett writes, “is when someone thinks that paying their taxes is sufficient to solve the problems of our city, pointing the finger at the mayor for not doing enough.”
In “Healing Baltimore’s Broken Heart,” Kara McDonagh suggests that Halvorsen — and by extension, anyone else who is “tired of looking at 11-year-olds as potential thieves, muggers and murderers on my walk home from the office” — should get involved in youth programs in the city: art classes, scholarships, and other efforts to give Baltimore youth greater opportunities to shape their futures.
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