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xiii Preface |  “Baltimore City, You’re Breaking My Heart” The events of April 2015 catapulted Baltimore onto the national (and international ) stage. The story is now well known. On April 12, 2015, Freddie Gray, a young African American, was taken into police custody after making eye contact with officers patrolling near the Gilmor Homes. Gray died a week later from the injuries he sustained during his subsequent ride in a police transport van. In the days that followed, controversy over the cause of Gray’s death reached a boiling point. On the afternoon of April 27, police clashed with black high school students at the Mondawmin Mall, setting off a chain reaction that spilled over into the surrounding neighborhood as some residents began looting, destroying property, and setting fire to cars. The media labeled these events a riot and blamed the youth at the mall for inciting the unrest. Yet the students had been doing what they do every day, trying to catch the bus after school—until they were greeted by a phalanx of police in riot gear and told to disperse. Then they learned that bus service had been suspended, leaving many with no way to get home. There is no definitive account of how the confrontation at Mondawmin truly went down or who was to blame. What we do know is that the unrest prompted public officials to call in roughly five thousand National Guard troops, plus law enforcement officials from the surrounding area, who would occupy Baltimore for days. Police helicopters swarmed overhead as protesters marched, often ending their rallies at the intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenues (the heart of the unrest), the Western District Police Department, or City Hall. Each night as curfew approached area clergy held hands, creating a human wall between angry protesters and the police. With footage of these events in hand, reporters had no problem following a familiar script, painting Baltimore as burned out and hopeless. A pervasive narrative about Baltimore’s youth was also stoked xiv      “Baltimore City, You’re Breaking My Heart” as an African American mayor, and even the nation’s first black president, castigated at least a segment of them as “thugs.” Some journalists used the occasion to dig deeper into Baltimore’s egregious past and explore the roots of the unrest—the city’s ugly history of legalized racial segregation, the displacement of African American communities through urban renewal, and more recently, the destabilization of black communities by a wave of foreclosures driven by unscrupulous lending institutions that intentionally targeted African Americans for subprime loans.1 But others invoked individual-level explanations for the deep poverty that held communities like Freddie Gray’s Sandtown in a chokehold.2 Just weeks after the unrest, David Brooks opined in the New York Times that “the real barriers to mobility are matters of social psychology ,”3 continuing a line of argument he’d begun a month earlier when he wrote that the suffering of poor communities is primarily due to deficient norms (“Do [people] have the freedom of self-control or are [they] in bondage to [their] desires?” he asked).4 News coverage of events following Freddie Gray’s death only amplified the view that Baltimore’s African American youth should be feared and controlled. One expression of this assessment, penned about a year before the unrest, went viral online. Following the murders of two neighborhood residents, Tracey Halvorsen, a white professional living in the Upper Fell’s Point, raged in a blogpost entitled “Baltimore City, You’re Breaking My Heart,” that she was “tired of being looked at like prey” and “tired of looking at eleven-year-olds as potential thieves, muggers and murderers on my walk home from the office.” She said she was “tired of reading about juveniles arrested for violent crimes who are let go because if it’s not a ‘murder’ case, there’s no time to worry about it.”5 Halverson’s recommendation: more police. The essay set off a citywide debate argued in the City Paper, Baltimore Brew, and online forums, with many of the critical posts pointing to the city’s long-standing racial divide. One particularly pointed response read: “What breaks my heart is when someone says they are tired of looking at black youth in the city as potential predators, as if they are the ones at fault . . . when someone of seeming affluent white privilege seems so far removed from so much of the city and its residents...


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