by Benn Ray
About a week ago, Baltimore got its collective online feathers ruffled by a post called "Baltimore City, You're Breaking My Heart: This Is Why People Leave" by Tracey Halvorsen.
As soon as I read the title and saw the moody, blue tinted Baltimore city mean street, I groaned.
I wasn't sure what I was going to read, but I knew I dreaded it.
Perhaps it was the too precious design that I found alienating.
Perhaps it was because the longer I delayed, the more I ended up reading criticism of it. Some of it was sexist and offensive (I enjoy the author's regular site, That Guys On Heroin, but I promise the next person who uses the phrase "sack up" or "nut up" or any derivation, I will find you and I will tea bag you), and some of it quite good (Lawrence Lanahan's response is spot on, but it doesn't quite tack down all that bothers me about the original). There was also a whole lotta chatter on social media that seemed irrational, ill-informed, emotional - y'know, like most things on social media - and none of that helped.
After trying to read the whole thing over a dozen times (and it only being a 12 minute read - gotta love an online platform that lets readers know how much of a commitment they'll need to make to get through something) I finally got through it. And, it turns out, almost everything about the post bothers me.
At this point, Halvorsen claims to have over 350k views (the equivalent of over 50% of the city's population, which I don't doubt), thousands of shares, and a lot of mostly constructive and mostly positive feedback, which leads me to believe that she is taking the response she received as a form of validation of the post.
The author says she is growing to hate it here. That happens with people and places. Things change. My first response was to say, "Hey, city livin', it ain't for everyone." But that's too easy and dismissive. And she does offer some legitimate criticism. The problem is getting to the criticism. See, it's not really a piece about Baltimore City or Baltimore City crime, and what to do about it, it is essentially a piece about a woman of privilege and how she feels.
The bad supposition her post makes is that I care about this person I've never met. That we, as a city, are should care about her because she feels she's just the sort of citizen we desire. She's special. We're supposed to care because she's had enough, just like everyone else in this city who haven't said that they're giving up on the town.
Baltimore's crime problems are frustrating. And the lack of satisfactory response by city leaders - the seeming indifference, defensiveness, and mis-focus by our elected officials is all disheartening.
Baltimore is a special-needs city. For chrissakes, we're a small recession away from becoming the next Detroit.
However, she does any valid criticisms she may have an injustice by wrapping them up in layer after layer of comments espousing entitlement and self-importance.
For example, whining about property taxes and citing FOX news doesn't help. Tax status does not entitle one to special consideration. And using FOX news as a source for anything shows one doesn't really care about facts.
Tracey Halvorsen is issuing us an ultimatum - fix the city's crime problem or she'll leave. It's only fair to expect a certain portion of us to say, "Go. We don't need you or your ultimatums."
Halvorsen also has the Baltimoaner/Wire problem.
Unlike her, I love answering The Wire Question. I get it all the time: "Is Baltimore really like The Wire?"
I joyfully say, "Yes, it's EXACTLY like The Wire. Just like Law & Order is exactly like New York. Just like CSI: Miami is exactly like Miami. Just like Breaking Bad is exactly like New Mexico. Just like Italians are like The Sopranos and US Marshals are like Justified."
I mean Christ, if you're so stupid as to believe a TV show can completely capture the entirety of living in a city, or if you're so worried about crime that you have to ask that question, you're better off visiting Annapolis. God knows what the hell you'd do in Annapolis - maybe gawk at rich people's sailboats - but go there instead.
Halvorsen thinks it's reasonable to expect to be able to walk down a city street while holding several hundred dollars in her hand and to proceed unmolested. I think it's ridiculous to expect that. But when you think you are somehow entitled to walk around with a smart phone or a tablet in your hand and not suffer a mugging, that's what you are doing. It doesn't mean we shouldn't fight back against it (like pressuring city and state leaders to outlaw smart-phone kiosks where these items can be exchanged for cash). But c'mon.
I'm left wondering why she wants to stay. Why does she want to love the city again, as she claims? Sure she spends some time flattering, but it feels hollow, forced. Perhaps she has a different definition of love than I do - I love Baltimore. I want it to be better. And I work hard in any way I can to make it better. But I don't withhold that love and issue ultimatums unless it changes its ways. In fact, this sounds like a really unhealthy relationship.
It's especially revealing when she translates Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's (a city official I am very critical of) statement that if you don't join her in her efforts to reduce crime in the city, you're part of the problem. Haverson understands that to mean the Mayor is calling her part of the problem. Which can only mean Halvorsen, like so many of the entitled, feels that she doesn't have to do anything to help make Baltimore better, well aside from owning a business, employing people and paying taxes. She sounds less like my definition of a citizen and more like the expectations of a corporation - well, except for the tax-paying part.
Doing the bare minimum isn't doing your part. It's just being present. While calling her a part of the problem is admittedly hyperbolic, calling her part of the solution is equally ridiculous.
She also seems to be under the impression that donating a little time and some resources to a charter school is going above and beyond. It's not. It only helps a handful of kids who were lucky enough to get into a charter school.
So I guess my problems are:
1. Her definition of love is conditional.
2. She seems to think she somehow warrants special attention given her status as a business owner and taxpayer.
3. She endorses bad policies like zero tolerance and harsh incarceration of children.
4. Her piece, while offering some hard to get at criticism, does little more than seem like a long whine.
5. She has every right to complain about crime and the city's poor handling of it. Every citizen does. We are all frustrated, and it's important to let our city officials know our level of frustration. But she seems to mistake crime for Baltimore's real problem, which is poverty.
6. She offers no solutions. She offers no call to action. In fact, she doesn't seem particularly interested in fixing the problem so much as pointing it out and expecting others to fix it.
It took me awhile to read Halvorsen's piece, and I can't say I'm glad I did - just like I can't say I'm glad for reading a majority of the criticism of it.
But like I said above, city living - it ain't for everyone.
On a personal note (just in case one needed my bona fides) - I am tax payer (I'm not sure what that means as we are ALL taxpayers) and a small business owner. In my 21 years as a city resident, I've had friends and neighbors attacked, beaten, stabbed, shot and killed. I've known people who have attacked, beaten, stabbed, shot and killed. I've been physically attacked, I've been harassed, and I've been the subject of attempted muggings. And I love Baltimore. And I want it to be better (which is why I spend a lot of time and effort and what money I have trying to make it the city I want it to be), and I have no plans on going anywhere. Real love isn't cutting and running when the going gets tough (and frankly, it's been tougher).