Let’s give West Baltimore a rest. No doubt that community 40 miles up the road from the District is, for journalists and talking heads, a paradise of easily obtained stories of rage, anguish, neglect and fear — more than enough to satisfy the morbid interests of an audience that would never set foot in the place.
But leave West Baltimore to Baltimore. There are enough West Baltimore-like treats here in our own back yard. We don’t have to search to find them.
If we care to look.
Peter Tatian of the Urban Institute has provided a road map to the District’s own West Baltimores, with careful documentation of neighborhoods with the heaviest concentration of grim conditions.
Tatian’s maps illustrate births to teen mothers; families headed by single women; violent crime; where police recorded gunshots; people age 25 and older without high school diplomas; the unemployed; people living below the poverty line; and welfare and food stamp recipients.
Not listed, but certainly worthy of plotting, are high school dropouts and juvenile arrests.
The statistics reflect West Baltimore-like trauma in the District’s poorest wards: 7 and 8, along with chunks of 4 and 5.
But we all knew that, didn’t we?
The only thing keeping our nation’s capital from becoming a riot-torn West Baltimore is the lack of a spark — a cop caught on tape doing what ought not to be done.
The absence of rioting leaves us free in our smugness to rant and rave over such life-threatening matters as bike lanes, pop-ups, streetcars, dog parks and our shamefully low supply of medical marijuana. (C’mon, do something about the lack of pot, for God’s sake.)
Shouldn’t some things take our attention off our own wants and desires?
Take this week’s story about the District ranking highest among wealthy capitals in infant deaths. Responding to Save the Children’s finding of a wide disparity in infant mortality between rich and poor parts of the District, Mike Czin, spokesman for D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), said: “The Bowser administration is committed to looking at innovative solutions to address health disparities that exist in the District,” adding that the city’s newly established Office of Health Equity “is looking at outcomes and upstream issues that are really the root causes of health disparities.” Say what?
Ensuring that poor D.C. babies live as often as rich D.C. babies would be a good thing. Getting that right, however, would still fall short of the mark. What about after the babies make it past their first birthdays? What about those mothers, often children themselves, who are struggling to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads without help from their children’s fathers?
While we are at it, what about the fathers, many of them boys themselves, who leave those teen mothers to fend on their own?
These conditions exist, by the way, without factoring in police relations.
Let’s get real: Reforming the criminal justice system won’t eliminate the grim conditions that burden our racially and economically stratified city. Neither will cursing the darkness of “social pathologies,” “family destruction” and “generations of dependency” in the black community.
This is where the men and women of the District who themselves have overcome obstacles enter the picture.
“Did anybody recognize Freddie when he was alive?” asked Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) at the funeral for Freddie Gray, whose death in police custody last month was the spark in Baltimore.
Several years ago, my late Post colleague William Raspberry stopped me in the newsroom and suggested we put our time and talents where our writings suggested that our minds were: namely, on kids in the community who could use a second chance.
Raspberry and I, both in our 60s then and fathers of grown children, became mentors of teenage boys in a Washington Urban League program. Working with a young man I met when he was a 15-year-old truant and on the cusp of lawlessness, I learned that care and attention, applied without ceasing, can make a difference.
After West Baltimore, President Obama said it’s time for some soul-searching, adding: “There are consequences to indifference.”
I hold dear in every fiber of my being that when it comes to the young Freddie and Frederica Grays of America, what’s most important, as Obama said, is for us “just to be there.”
Adult Washingtonians, leave Baltimore to Baltimore. Young lives need changing right here. They need someone. They need you.
Read more from Colbert King’s archive.