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Published on May 1st, 2015 | by Rafael Alvarez

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BLUES FOR BALTIMORE by Rafael Alvarez

BLUES FOR BALTIMORE

Notes from the Most Northern Southern City in America

The 2015 Freddie Gray Riots

 

“Freddie Gray’s crime was running while black. They crushed his windpipe, they broke his back …”

–Robert Ross, bluesman
In Baltimore, the story often comes to you.

Like a large mob of teenagers rampaging through city streets as though the bulls of Pamplona were at their heels, kids busting out after the school bell to throw rocks at cops, set buildings on fire, loot liquor stores and, apparently, have the time of their highly-perishable lives.

The only thing chasing this Lost Generation (a new one is created here every year)—at least until the National Guard rolled in—was the ghost of Freddie Gray.

“They chased his shadow down and pinned it to the ground,” wrote slide guitarist Ross in a blues composed in the wake of the riots. “Right into the van the shadow goes, how it died nobody knows …”

The still unexplained death of the 25-year-old Gray (acknowledged by officials to have occurred after his arrest for fleeing) ignited the worst civil disturbance in my hometown since the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Freddie had been picked up by the cops more than once on drug charges before his last ride in a police van. Which made him just about the same as tens of thousands of his peers in a historically and stubbornly segregated city of haves-and-have-nots.

Wrote former Associated Press reporter Christopher Corbett in a dispatch for Reuters: “How and why he died under circumstances that are extremely confusing at the very least is a question that will be haunting Baltimore for a long while.”

As haunting as the work of Edgar Allan Poe, buried here in the mid-19th century, just about the time Baltimore was earning its most enduring nickname: MOBTOWN.

It’s easy to call people who burn their own neighborhoods idiots, especially when the torched and looting buildings are not just liquor stores but pharmacies where people without easy transportation go for hard-to-get medicine and a still-under-construction “transformation” center for housing and job training.

SgtDalfonso

Some in this just-below-the-Mason-Dixon-line city with numerous monuments to the Confederacy are calling the rioters worse than that.

But how idiotic to be more pissed-off that one baseball game was cancelled and another played—without precedent—inside an empty stadium, as the Orioles did on April 29 than disgusted.

Disgusted at a society able to produce hundreds of thousands of kids across this country both empty and stupid enough to burn the store where Grandma gets her insulin?

It can’t happen here?

FatherMarvin180

Today Baltimore, tomorrow ….

The most courageous observations in light of the riots (trouble which surely will flare again when the coroner’s report is released) came not from a politician or a preacher but from a very rich man.

John Angelos is the son of Peter Angelos, the aging asbestos-injury attorney who grew up in the Greektown neighborhood (untouched by the riots) during the Depression. Peter Angelos is the owner of the Baltimore Orioles. Pete’s son John is the team’s chief operating officer.

In a far-reaching statement, Angelos responded to those barking at the unfairness of not being able to root for the home team.

“My concern, outrage, and sympathy beyond [the Gray] is focused neither upon one night’s property damage,” he said. “[It’s] focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China …[they have] plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.

“The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importance of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards.”

Go O’s!

Alvarez can be reached via orlo.leini@gmail.com.

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About the Author

Rafael Alvarez is a reporter, short story writer & screenwriter based in Baltimore. He has been visiting & writing about Mississippi since 1984. A former staff writer for HBO's "The Wire," his new book is a collection of short fiction called "Tales From the Holy Land."



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