Baltimore has dominated the news over the past few days and the subtext of the entire ordeal is race or more specifically African-Americans vs. the police. To put this in perspective it is necessary to take a look at the racial make-up of Baltimore, its citizens, its police and its governmental leadership.
According to 2013 Census estimates, Black or African-American citizens make up 63.3% of the population. How about the Baltimore Police Department? As far back as anyone can remember, the Baltimore Police Department was predominantly Irish-Americans, however that is no longer the case. Currently the BPD is 48% Black and 46% White, which gives the Baltimore Police a much closer demographic breakdown compared to the population at large than most cities in America.
It is administered by Commissioner Anthony Batts and Deputy Commissioner of Patrol Garnell Green, both of whom are African-American. The Mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, is also African-American and she is no rookie to politics or city management. She is a member of the Democratic Party and currently serves as secretary of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
She has been mayor since 2010, but before becoming mayor she was Vice-President and eventually became President of the City Council. In the past she also served as an administrative law attorney with the Baltimore City office of the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, which offers free civil legal services to Maryland’s low-income residents. She went on to serve as a staff attorney with the Maryland Office of the Public Defender in its Southern District (District 1, Baltimore City) from 1998 to 2006. Which gave her ample experience with the police and crime in Baltimore as well.
As big cities go, Baltimore is better suited than most to serve its majority black population with competent black leaders and law enforcement that reflects the cities racial demographics. Many black leaders claim that you have to be black to represent the black community effectively. Whether those claims are true or not, in the case of Baltimore that would not appear to be an issue. So, what are the real issues plaguing Baltimore?
Is it oppressive law enforcement unjustly targeting the black community? Yes, there are issues between law enforcement and the community in Baltimore, such as over 300 lawsuits against police from 2011-2014, over 3000 misconduct complaints (1203 upheld) from 2012-2014 and nearly 6 million dollars paid to victims of police brutality by the city.
Just based on those numbers, one might think the protests are justified and that there are some serious problems within the BPD. That may well be true, but as is usually the case, there is more to the story. Poverty, drugs and unemployment play a large part in this story as well. BPD has 4000 sworn officers policing a city of over 600,000 citizens. Almost a quarter (23.8%) of those citizens live below the Poverty Line compared to the national average of 14.5%.
Unemployment in Baltimore has been going down for the last 4 years from its peak in 2010, but youth unemployment is still a serious issue. Unemployment for black youth (16-19) is 27.5% and white teen unemployment is at 15.8%. Where poverty and unemployment are major issues, drugs and gang activity typical propagate as well. In 2014 Baltimore had a murder rate of 37.4 per 100,000 people, 5th highest in the nation.
There are those that might say that the problems in Baltimore are a failure of government policies, poor economic development or just a loss of moral values. Regardless of you politics, religious beliefs or even your race, Baltimore represents a fundamental failure that affects much of this nation as a whole. Race relations are often the first knee-jerk reaction to situations such as what is happening in Baltimore, but things in life are rarely, if ever, so black and white.