American Culture

Baltimore uprising: food deserts, gas deserts and why the media has it wrong on Freddie Gray

church is open for prayer need to rap come downstairsI took a bunch of rich kids to Baltimore in July of last year. We stayed at The Center, a fortified compound on the property of First & Franklin Presbyterian Church. My primary job was to keep the kids safe. I learned the access codes and the panic buttons. I learned which doors not to open, should anyone knock on them. I learned about the gates, a containment cage designed to prevent my empathy from endangering my fellow Christians.

I also learned about food deserts. Basically, a food desert is an urban environment in which the food is far away and the people have no reliable transport. Forget cars, the buses don’t circulate in the poor sections of Baltimore. We waited for two hours. Some empathetic locals emerged from their possibly condemned town house to warn us that the bus wasn’t coming and that we, positive vibes be damned, should be long gone before the sun went down. There is a metro station less than a mile away, downhill. Get going, children.

We worked under Pastor Gary Dittman at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church. Gary carries the narrative. He pastored a meek suburban flock until the call to Baltimore, when he transformed the rubble left from a block of leveled houses into expansive community gardens. He remains the ray of hope for most of the McElderry Park neighborhood, where he runs a food pantry for a community lacking regular meals, let alone healthy choices.

Recently I was asked whether I thought the police were to blame for the death of Freddie Gray. I don’t know. Let’s wait until all the facts are in before we pass judgment. The truth is, Freddie Gray has become the posterchild for Baltimore. And Baltimore has become the posterchild for America. As Michael Fletcher of the Washington Post said, it was only a matter of time before Baltimore exploded.

The fact is the majority of Baltimore will not lose one Roosevelt dime if the city burns to the ground. They have nothing to lose but the chains of debt slavery. Stolen cars are usually found when they run out of gas because 1) the thieves have no money for gas and 2) there are no gas stations serving East or West Baltimore, where most of the population resides. The fuel desert map is worse than the food desert map, and both inform the murder map. A business cannot be supported by an indigent population. It’s a question of survival.

Baltimore food deserts

125,000 people, or 20 percent of Baltimore’s population, live in a food desert.

Cable Media wants to portray this as a racial issue, white cops and a black victim/criminal, depending on which Cable News network you believe. The reality is that more than half of Baltimore’s cops are black. The issue here is haves and have-nots. Historically, race has been used to divide and conquer the poor. Poor white people have been convinced that they don’t care that Michael Brown was killed pre-trial for selling loose cigarettes, because Cable Media has convinced them the resistance is race based, not justice based.

America’s original sin, slavery, has become an (un)expected boon to those in charge, because it has allowed the perpetrators to bury the links between these crimes in a way they would never have been able to bury them otherwise. Because the system is racist, we have been blinded to the fact that it is also biased against the poor. And because the system is racist and also biased against the poor, we must make two steps forward for every one step back, just to maintain the status quo. The deck is truly stacked against us.

Let us not forget, there is hope. Gary Dittman is the proof. Against all odds he has organized the community. He convinced gang members to begin collecting trash when the city stopped doing it. He created a “client choice” food pantry which allows visitors to decide what they will take home to feed their families. He empowers the kids to grow their own produce. He is helping people to build a new Baltimore from the ground up. Talk about a revolution.

2 replies »

  1. Nicely balanced commentary Joshua and I like your optimism. To me the answer always lies in feeding and educating children. Hungry children can’t learn, uneducated youth can’t find gainful employment and therein lies the boredom, despair, alcohol and drug abuse and crime that builds ghettos.

    I have no answers, only questions…

  2. It’s always good to see someone offering hope. I’m sure a lot of frustration comes from feeling hopeless, like there is no chance of improvement. Race and income shouldn’t matter, everyone should get a chance to improve their lot.