Robinson: Putting Baltimore on right track will take will, money

By Eugene Robinson

Syndicated columnist

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BALTIMORE — This city needs to be built up again, but first a lot of it ought to be torn down.

There has been much talk, following Monday’s night of rage, about the social maladies that afflict this city. One of the most visible should also be one of the most straightforward to address: Baltimore’s enormous stock of derelict, abandoned housing. Federal, state and local officials should work together — now — to eliminate this blight.

I spent part of Tuesday at the intersection of W. North and Pennsylvania avenues, outside the CVS drug store that had burned the night before. A few hundred people were milling around; many had brought brooms to clean up the broken glass and other debris that littered the neighborhood. Those I talked to had a lot to say about the rioters, the Baltimore police department and the mystery of how Freddie Gray suffered a fatal spinal injury while in custody. I heard much about failing schools and long-disappeared jobs.

On the way back to my car, I walked past an example of something no one had mentioned: a string of a half-dozen crumbling row houses that had long been unoccupied. Now they were decrepit shells, unfit for human habitation. Doors and windows were boarded up, more or less, though it looked as if at least a couple of the houses had been occupied by squatters.

This is all too common in Charm City. In 1950, Baltimore was the sixth-largest city in the country with a population of about 950,000. Bethlehem Steel was the biggest employer in a blue-collar, industrial town. Homeowners took pride in keeping their row houses tidy and their marble stoops scrubbed to a gleam.

Today, the factories are mostly gone; the biggest employer is Johns Hopkins University. Just 622,000 Baltimoreans live in a cityscape built to accommodate nearly a million — which means that amid the well-kept homes there are 16,000 vacant houses and roughly 14,000 empty lots. The area that saw the worst rioting this week is far more intact than some neighborhoods, where whole blocks of row houses are dead but not gone.

Drug dealers find convenient places to conduct business; gang members have hideouts to cache weapons and contraband; children must be kept away from buildings where rotting porches and sagging floors may be ready to collapse. Blighted housing sickens, and ultimately kills, whole neighborhoods.

Detroit went through an even more dramatic process of depopulation, from 1.8 million residents in 1950 to just under 700,000 today. But that city is finally beginning to recover, and one big step along the right path has been demolishing vacant housing and turning much of the land into urban green space.

As of last fall, Detroit was tearing down as many as 200 vacant houses each week. At a similar rate, Baltimore could eliminate its abandoned housing within a couple of years. Each demolition costs money, however — in Detroit, a reported $15,000 on average — and Baltimore doesn’t have that kind of cash lying around.

That is where the state and federal governments must come in. Are officials in Annapolis and Washington serious about helping inner-city Baltimore escape its suffocating poverty, dysfunction and despair? Reforming schools, renovating infrastructure and creating jobs are necessary grand projects that will take time. Meanwhile, with the needed funding, a greatly intensified campaign to tear down ruined, abandoned housing stock could be launched tomorrow.

I don’t pretend this is an uncomplicated issue. In Baltimore, several residents told me of their fear that gentrification would inexorably push African-Americans out of the homes and neighborhoods where their families have lived for generations. Bulldozers are not always popular.

But at this point, they are necessary. Blighted housing is not Baltimore’s only problem, perhaps not even its biggest problem. But demolition is something beneficial that can be started right now. All that’s required is the will, and of course the money.

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An article from the Liberal

An article from the Liberal Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/earl-ofari-hutchinson/why-so-many-believe-black_b_3557793.html " A recent Rasmussen poll found that more Americans by a wide margin think blacks are more racist than whites. This also included a significant percent of blacks who according to Rasmussen said that they consider more blacks racist than whites or Hispanics. The poll was sloughed off, mocked, and skewered by some. But many can and should quibble with the methodology. It was done through a telephone survey and the sample was 1,000 respondents. But the question is how did pollsters define and determine what is "racist"? Still, its conclusion may have some validity. For three decades, the steady drumbeat has been that the avalanche of civil rights and voting rights laws, state and local bars against discrimination, and affirmative action programs has permanently crumbled the nation's historic racial barriers. The parade of top black appointed and elected officials, including one president, the legions of black mega millionaire CEOs, athletes, entertainers, and the household names of blacks from Oprah to Bob Johnson is repeatedly waved as convincing proof of that. The ferocious assault by high profile black conservatives, with a certain Supreme Court justice leading the way, have sold millions of Americans that everything from historic voting rights protections to affirmative action are relics of a long by-gone racist past and should be summarily dumped in the historic dust bin. They haven't stopped at that. They've even sold a wide body of the public that to continue to fight for these supposedly unnecessary relics is just a self-serving, greedy grab by the much rivaled "civil rights establishment" to protect its racial turf, and feather its own nest. Those hurt most by this are blacks who they supposedly mire in a semi-permanent state of dependency and entitlement trap. It matters little that every objective study and survey for the past two decades has consistently shown the gaping racial disparities in health care, education spending, the criminal justice system, employment, the wealth gap, and poverty between blacks and whites has either stagnated or widened. Or that blacks are still largely the invisible men and women in executive management spots at the Fortune 500 corporations. It matters even less that the textbook definition of racism explicitly means not just an individual's thinking or expressing racially skewed bias and animus toward another group, but having the actual power to exert control and dominance through the mechanisms of law, public policy, and economic dominance over that group. This is the defining point between an individual's personal prejudices, and there are few individuals who don't harbor some personal prejudice toward another group, and having the actual power to exercise that prejudice against another group that is deliberately missed or distorted in the futile exercise of trying to say who is a racist and what makes them a racist. The entrenched notion, however, is that if you're black, poor, uneducated, or locked in a prison cell, don't blame social, political or economic iniquities, in short, don't scream race -- blame yourself. This does two things: it provides social and psychic comfort to those individuals who think that they're bigotry-free, and can finger point blacks as eternal racial crybabies who love to scream racism at every slight or failure. They also pound civil rights leaders for eternally playing the race card on every supposedly imagined or trumped up racial malfeasance. But the far more insidious thing than accusing blacks of being America's top bigots is that it makes it much easier to ignore or outright assail laws, statutes, policies and initiatives that were hard fought over to put on the books to protect rights and eliminate discrimination. This ploy was on full display in the Supreme Court debate over the key provisions of the Voting Rights Act that for decades mandated Justice Department approval to prevent registrars in targeted Southern and Southwestern states from using every tact to damp down black and Hispanic votes. It was on display and in the ancient court and public debate over affirmative action which has long been encased in public thinking, as "reverse discrimination." The real victims of this supposed discrimination are not blacks, Hispanics or women, but white males. This was amply borne out in a Rasmussen poll in May that found only 25 percent of Americans favored affirmative action as part of college admission policies. The Supreme Court almost certainly will hear yet another affirmative action related case at a future date. And there is talk among some Democrats that Congress should pass some measures to restore the protections that the Court gutted in its decision on the Voting Rights Act. Unfortunately, these polls give those who oppose any more rights initiatives be it court, congressional or from the private sector further ammunition to argue that America has reached a racial nirvana and nothing more need be done to protect or further safeguard racial gains. And the only ones screaming for that to happen are blacks. But then again that's only to be expected since so many blacks are "racist" anyway." Then you have the professional race baiters Rev. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson. You have President Obama's former pastor Jeremiah Wright. So...... Racism is not a one way street. I just wish Mr. Robinson had acknowledged the fact that there are a large number of high profile black racists. We have a lot of work to do.

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