Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Tragedy of Baltimore (nytimes.com)
180 points by laurex 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 149 comments

I grew up in Baltimore City, born in the 70s. Up until the drug war in the 80s, it was a multiracial working class city. I lived near "Pigtown" one of the poorer areas, but I was never afraid to go out at night.

During the summer months when it was hot and humid, I'd sleep during the day, and friends and I would sneak out and walk all over the city in the middle of the night, we were only 11-12 years old.

Yes, we hung out on the stairs of our row houses, and on the corners of the streets, and played radios loud, but by and large, violence was confined mostly to bullying. In fact, we had often walked down Pratt street past Martin Luther King Boulevard with no problem from the people living in the projects.

Things changed after the drug war started in the 80s. I started experiencing shootings. Kids got shot at my school. I'd hear gunshots all during the night. I even got caught up in a shootout at one point, which sounded like firecrackers going off if it wasn't for the sounds of bullets ricocheting off of the brick houses (thank god old Baltimore rowhouses had real brick facades)

Many of my childhood friends became drug addicts, crack houses sprung up around my home. One of the friends I knew who I thought would graduate highschool and college, who was smart and into electronics, ended up as the neighborhood drug kingpin. Older neighbors and others who could, fled the city for the suburbs. Homes were boarded out, and soon, it looked like Mad Max. Our house sprouted bars on the windows.

If it hadn't been for my 300 baud vic-modem and Vic-20/C64, I wouldn't have gotten off the streets. I mostly survived by vanishing into the online world, and staying in libraries, and avoiding the streets.

To me, the war against crack cocaine is what leveled Baltimore. Not the drug itself, if the government had treated it as a public health problem, things might have turned out better. But the drug war only served to make drugs the most lucrative, most important part of the local economy, and for the losers in that economy, the dopamine it provided became an escape from despair.

It's curious the difference in response to the current "opioid epidemic". Where is the police crackdown in this case?

There's a huge differential in the way the criminal justice system handled black people's drugs (crack), and cocaine (rich man's aspirin). A few rocks of crack got you an arrest with jail time, repeat 3 times, and a fatherless home is created with a new felon in the system. But white professionals who did coke? Slap on the wrist unless they were possessing huge amounts.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that the criminal justice system is biased against the poor, and exceptionally biased against poor minorities. Since Baltimore demographics are heavily represented by minorities, it's no surprise things happening differently there vs Appalachia.

The 'drug war' has always been intended to treat black and white users differently (and consequently the drugs they tend to reach for differently, not the other way around as many people assume); in many ways that was the whole point. See this article from Harpers [1]:

> I’d tracked Ehrlichman, who had been Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser, to an engineering firm in Atlanta, where he was working on minority recruitment. At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away.

> “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

[1] https://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/

Or maybe there might be an other confounder than skin color ? Maybe SES status of drug addict influences the way they finance their habit You might want to compare the impact of crack in black neighborhoods on violent crime and the impact of opioids in white neighborhoods on violent crime. Assuming the justice/police system is actually concerned about violent crimes, Occam's razor shaves off the racist assumptions pretty nicely. Also cf. Locking up our own https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/11/books/review-locking-up-o...

+1 for Locking up Our Own - really interesting study of how the crack war led to massive incarceration of black youth, using DC as the primary case study

Aren't minorities the majority in Baltimore? I don't know what the difference is between Baltimore City and whatever is Baltimore in practice, but the statistics I've seen today [0] suggest that "minorities" are white people.

Honest question - how can the criminal justice system in Baltimore be biased against 'black people's drugs' as a minority when they are numerically in the majority? It is an interesting logistical challenge to discriminate against a 60% voting block in a democracy. Is criminal justice enforced by non-city actors? (I'm not an American)

[0] planning.baltimorecity.gov/sites/default/files/2a_City%20Profile%20-%203.30.16_0.pdf

> how can the criminal justice system in Baltimore be biased against 'black people's drugs' as a minority when they are numerically in the majority?

Oh, they SO can be. They might be numerically in the majority, but the people in power (including some Black people) don't give a SHIT about poor Black people. And act like it.

Not all the people in power are elected (lots of unelected people and institutions have SO much power, like Johns Hopkins, and major developers). But for those who are elected, how they keep getting elected when not only Black people but probably poor Black people are a majority, it's a bit of a mystery to me too.

</lives in Baltimore>

This is playing semantics, when using the term 'minority', we're talking about within the entire United States. Baltimore doesn't make federal drug laws, Washington D.C. does.

Police are tasked with enforcing these laws which are HEAVILY biased towards the kinds of drugs African Americans deal with.

Possession of 28 grams of crack cocaine yields a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for a first offense; it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to prompt the same sentence.

The way that white supremacy works is that black people are penalized even in the small enclaves where they constitute a local majority. Note that the laws that punish crack (used by lower income black people) 100 times more harshly than powder cocaine [0] are federal in nature.

[0] https://www.aclu.org/other/cracks-system-20-years-unjust-fed...

the federal penalties for crack were indeed more severe than ordinary cocaine, and black legislators championed the laws that made it so:


crack cocaine did incredible damage to urban black communities, and the laws were a reflection of that. obviously the laws went on to do incredible damage in their own right as well.

Crack didn't do the damage, the illegal black market for crack did most of the damage. Black people, heavily suffering from violence associated with illegal black markets, mistakenly backed mandatory harsh sentencing which devastated their communities even more.

Dealing with crack usage as a public health problem would have been far superior.

The harshest of the drug war existed prior to the 1994 crime bill as well.

haven’t encountered many crackheads, eh? crack did plenty of damage itself

I lived sandwiched in between two crackhouses for years, and my own sister and brother smoked crack (later my sister died ultimately from heroin). And? My father was an alcoholic and alcoholics have been destroying families for years.

Locking up 1 out of 4 African American males for drug possession or addict isn't going to fix the problem, it only makes it worse.

my friend, i don't disagree with you

To answer your question, yes Baltimore is majority black at roughly 64%: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baltimore

As an FYI, Baltimore City and Baltimore County are separate entities (the city is not part of the county).

I cannot speak on the 70s and 80s, but from present observation OP’s assessment of crack vs. cocaine penalties would perhaps be more relevant to a city like NYC than Baltimore. Cocaine (the good stuff rich white people would buy) is not as common because there isn’t enough of a market that could afford it. Overall, heroin is now the most ubiquitous drug with other prescription meds/opioids used as substitutes sometimes. Heroin has really hit the city hard.

In terms of policing/justice, corruption is a pretty big issue. On an everyday level, the police basically won’t do shit unless there is a crime worth their while (so in a hit-and-run or theft for example don’t expect much help).

The neighborhoods in the East and West sides are high in violent crime from gangs and drugs. There are blocks with more rundown vacant houses than occupied ones. Compared to the gentrified pockets, these areas are like favelas.

Baltimore has its redeeming highlights, but it’s nowhere near the industrious city it once was, and is still trying to find a new direction.

To understand the present, look to the past.

Ask yourself who the original majority population in the area were, and where they went. Then ask yourself who the current majority population is, where they came from, and how and why they arrived there. Then ask yourself what population has had the most power there over, say, the last 400 years. You may find that a majority population does not always have a majority of the power.

You can also compare the current state of affairs to the history of other countries. If the majority population is limited by (1) lack of right to vote, (2) lack of access to vote, (3) lack of information to vote, and (4) lack of belief in the vote, that population's effect on local politics can be shrunk down to have very little impact.

And also consider the practical aspects. Even if 99% of your citizenry vote for something, like increased funding for schools - where is the money going to come from if 75% of your population is impoverished? Definitely not from the federal government. You can't just vote yourself out of a terrible local economy.

Baltimore schools spend about $17 000 per student. This is more than a national average and more than many private schools.

It's not about the money.

It's because most of the laws governing penalties for drug use are not created (and are often not enforced) by local jurisdictions. For example, Federal sentencing guidelines are made in Congress.

Local jurisdictions, when they do participate in enforcement, are incentivized on convictions and other metrics and alignment to the Federal system is better. So, even if the local police, DA, judge and others in the system are national minorities, but local majorities, they are still working for the national majority policies.

I recall I watched too much CNN in the mid-80s and my recollection is that news network was right out front in promoting crack as a special case drug problem that required special law enforcement.

I think the difference is more than race. Wealthy professional coke users don't cause a lot of violent crime or robberies.

Don't they? If cocaine is more expensive, and the intensity of a drug war follows the amount of money involved, it stands to reason that coke users are, in actuality, causing more crime. If you were to say, "Which drug users commit the most crimes," that's a bit murkier, leaning towards poorer drug users. But it's very hard to argue that the violence at every step of the cocaine trade, particularly in foreign countries, isn't caused by the market upscale coke users create. They're only a step or two removed from that violence, and certainly the impetus for it.

If police and policy-makers were serious about curbing drug use and truly thought their methods worked, they'd go after coke and crack users with the same methods and intensity.

> If cocaine is more expensive, and the intensity of a drug war follows the amount of money involved,

It doesn't; the intensity of the drug war produces the amount of money involved and the street price, as it creates a barrier to entry (reducing competition) and produces supplier costs; it thus increases the minimum sustainable cost and the ability of suppliers to charge above that cost.

Okay... It seems more chicken or egg, as the market would not have been lucrative and therefore attractive to participants without high potential earnings <i>independent</i> of the costs.

But even if we assume causation runs the way you state, the point is that a drug war's intensity and the amount of money wrapped up in it are inextricably linked. If you're buying expensive drugs, then it's highly likely that high-cost operations are involved. In a lawless industry, that means more lawlessness.

OK I get your point. I was saying a neighborhood full of poor crack addicts will be a dangerous place, so requires "aggressive policing", more than a neighborhood full of coke snorting yuppies.

However both are supplied by the same violent supply chain that the "war" is supposed to stop.

Just to expand and conclude: if aggressive policing works to stem the drug flow by choking the demand, then such tactics should be used for "coke snorting yuppies" as well as "poor crack addicts." That it isn't suggests that there's another impetus (or, an impetus for not using them on the former). The tactics used in enforcing drug laws are often harsh, if not cruel. In the past, the line between American institutions meting out harsh or soft punishments for transgressions has been the same as the one between white and black. So I'm perfectly comfortable saying that race makes all the difference in this context.

I think the bias against crack has more to do with the public perception of a crisis versus powdered cocaine.

Crack was regarded as a national emergency in the 80’s. That never happened with powdered cocaine beyond the local drug wars in Miami.

Right. And the (white) public perception of such things has SO MUCH to do with the public perception of race and what they assume it means, and, to use a phrase that's become popular, "anti-Black tropes". The white public perception. Which is enough.

Are you saying there were no concerns in the black community about crack? And no requests to “put those dealers in jail?”

I doubt that’s true.

No, I'm saying the public perception of "crack vs cocaine" (and crack as a "national emergency" and not cocaine) was significantly influenced by public anti-Black (and anti-poor) biases and perceptions.

Exhibit A: George Bush Sr scaremongering over a bag of crack cocaine on nation wide TV (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjCPX5eQwik). This is quite similar to the scaremongering of terrorism that got us the Patriot Act, and the Iraq invasion, and the Trump/Fox News's current scaremongering of caravans as if they're an invading army.

The powers that be of reactionary politics love to use fear to divert attention and scapegoat racial minorities or foreigners in order to avoid having to address real problems and potentially stop protecting their paymasters.

It’s called moral panic and happens quite often. See violence in video games and the every common trope about razor blades in Halloween candy.

>very common trope about razor blades in Halloween candy.

You just brought back childhood memories of having to eat smooshed candy bars after my mom got done checking them for razor blades and needles. Every. Single. Halloween.

What about black professionals who did coke? I mean it might be more about class (in the good sense of the word, as in: "classy") rather than race.

Good example: go out in the street in Russia at night drunk, unshaven and with dirty clothes, and you'd be beaten and robbed by cops. Do same in a good suit and shaven and you'll be alright.

First, "drug laws" have almost always been code for racism. Opium laws originally were meant to target Chinese immigrants. Marijuana laws were meant to target Hispanics. Crack laws were meant to target African-Americans.

Second, the density gradient of people is quite different and thus far less profitable. Going after the opioid epidemic means going mostly after single individuals in places far less populated with people. The Internet has also dispersed most drug delivery--this is quite a bit different from when the crackdown on crack was running.

Third, the age of the affected is vastly different and creates a far different optics. If you are rounding up "troubled city teens", you're not going to get much pushback from anyone. If you are rounding up "grandma", the press is going to have a field day. This is not new--there is a reason why you know who Rosa Parks is but not Claudette Colvin.

Aren't most opioids obtained via legitimate prescriptions?

Well, who sells opioids, and who sells crack?

I don't know why this comment was dead, but I'm vouching for it because it's one of the most perceptive ones - just follow the money.

I'm sure all the other reasons listed also play a role, but I'm a bit surprised it escaped everyone (myself included) that opioids line corporate pockets, and crack does not. Given the extent of corporate influence in the US, I'd wager this is the dominant reason.

Pretty sure the white man gets paid off all of that

I grew up in the late 70s, early 80s not too terribly far from Baltimore and have made a number of visits to it over the years. It never had a great reputation outside of the Inner Harbor, but the reputation as a real lost city really crystalized in the late 80s and it never really recovered -- at least not in the way other major cities have had recent Renaissances. I don't really think the reputation is undeserved.

In fact, it used to be a normal part of discussion that Baltimore, Philadelphia and NYC were basically where you went as a tourist to get something stolen from you, and I personally experienced that on a small scale in two of those cities.

However, I never went really into Baltimore until the mid-2000s when on a number of short term contracts I had to go to near Johns Hopkins and then a couple at Morgan State. To be honest, driving through parts of Baltimore was almost indistinguishable from news clips of war torn cities in the Middle East...just absolute urban devastation...but on slow burn. Hopefully its changed, but it comes to mind as the pinnacle example of urban blight when I think of the term.

My wife, who grew up in South Korea in the late 70s under a military dictator, couldn't even fathom the general level of danger and decay she saw on her few visits into the city. She says she felt better in Pittsburgh.

In the early 2010s, an idealistic friend of mine moved to Baltimore, thinking that an influx of well meaning people with good jobs and money could help turn parts of the city around. They lasted 2 years before the financial burden of repairing material stolen off of their house while they were inside it started to become serious and they moved out to the "safer" city of D.C: gutters, siding, wheels on their cars, a gate, a BBQ, all sorts of things.

One adventurous thief stole all the gutters off their house, two screen doors and helped themselves to a number of car parts off of one of their parked cars between the time they came home from work and went out to dinner.

I know it can be turned around. NYC is generally pretty great these days. Philly ain't half bad. Even D.C. outside of the National Mall is worth visiting and most of the city has turned a corner. Baltimore actually has a lot of great islands of culture to offer, but it's a generation of hard work to get the city turned around.

Another way to think about it is if D.C. and Baltimore metro areas are combined, it could be a unified urban conglomeration that hits around 10 million people, one of the largest in the country, has pretty much the entire Federal Government and many major financial hubs as well as huge biotech, startup and other tech scenes...it has a population larger than the San Francisco Bay Area and could be a much large major economic force.



Wait what, you just compare inner city Baltimore to Pittsburgh?

Why wouldn't you? Similar population, similar Rust Belt industries that declined or folded at a similar time. The two cities have a lot in common.

I just read a comment someone posted here about how DC and NYC grew up too much to support large scale drug operations and so Baltimore consequently has this fate. Then I logged in to reply to it and it vanished. I thought it was an interesting theory.

I don’t understand. You mention a number of your friends became drug addicts and then blame the gov’t for trying to fight it. Or do you think the gov’t created those addicts? I’m a bit confused.

I blame the government for fighting it in the wrong way, by locking people up (which costs several times more, and turns non-violent offenders into violent ex-cons who can't get a job because they're ex-felons), instead of fighting it with drug treatment programs.

Drugs are a public health problem.

The drug was was a colssal failure. Having the police roll around the neighborhood and harass junkies helps no one. In fact over policing decimated these communities and vanished a huge part of the population into prisons.

It filled prisons with non-violent offenders which were now sucked into the whirlpool of incarceration. It created a massive prison industrial complex with perverse incentives where the business of locking people up became massivly profitable.

From the start, it was an authoritarian policy designed to make it easier to harass dissidents. [O]

0: https://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/

> She described how bewildering it had been to accompany a friend downtown, near the tourist-friendly Inner Harbor, one night a few months earlier. “The lighting was so bright. People had scooters. They had bikes. They had babies in strollers. And I said: ‘What city is this? This is not Baltimore City.’ Because if you go up to Martin Luther King Boulevard” — the demarcation between downtown and the west side — “we’re all bolted in our homes, we’re locked down.” She paused for a moment to deliver her point. “All any of us want is equal protection,” she said.

This rings pretty true to me. The past few months I've taken walks around the Inner Harbor, Fells Point, and Federal Hill in the mornings, and it has never felt unsafe. When I've ventured into other parts of the city it's like I've entered a different world. Also, as an aside, you can get a feel for how safe various areas of the city are by checking out the Baltimore Homicides Map:


This is called "The White L" and "The Black Butterfly", and it's kind of ridiculous how accurate it is.

Anything surrounding Charles St by a few blocks is prosperous and safe, extending into and around Fed Hill, and going east on Pratt St. Frequently-running free buses, light rail, lots of police presence, tourism, a vibrant array of small businesses, and everyone you see is white.

Go outside of those narrow corridors and suddenly it's all liquor stores, boarded up houses, chronically late for-pay buses, and everyone you see is black. If it were the deep south we'd say it was a shocking display of segregation.

https://www.citypaper.com/bcpnews-two-baltimores-the-white-l... https://www.colorlines.com/articles/read-brilliant-breakdown... http://thebaltimorechop.com/2015/04/05/on-the-myth-of-baltim...

I grew up in suburban Maryland, and school trips to Balitmore - to visit the National Aquarium and such - were frequent. We'd go to Orioles and Ravens games and walk 20 minutes from parking without incident. The first time I was ever "cut loose" to roam around without adult supervision was during a trip to the Inner Harbor in 8th grade, and then every year after that, in high school, we would get to spend a day there with visiting Japanese exchange students. There was also an annual anime convention that I'd attend with friends, and again, we'd roam around the area without trouble. It wasn't actually until college, when serialized prestige TV began to be a "thing" and The Wire started to bleed into the the broader cultural atmosphere, that I had any comprehension that Baltimore was supposed to be a dangerous place.

There is a razor sharp divide, even if it's not delineated by a train track.

> https://homicides.news.baltimoresun.com/

Oh wow, Baltimore (600k inhabitants) has about the same homicide rate per year as the whole of Germany (83M inhabitants)...

Could this be due to the inequalities or demographic differences between the different neighborhoods?



Inequality has to a symptom of something deeper. It is simply unreasonable to think that my neighbor being 100x as wealthy as me could inspire me to a life of crime. Inequality is just as much a symptom of health as it is sickness in the system - everyone is equal if there is no wealth and everybody is eating dirt.

If "inequality" is a euphemism for social stratification it should be called as such, or a pithy word found. Not being able to access wealth through hard work is a huge problem.

Yes, of course. In Baltimore there's an area called "the white 'L'", and another area called "the black butterfly," describing how the demographics are shaped throughout the city.

This is my experience. I have been there several times but never to the "real Baltimore", only the Inner Harbor and Fells Point. It's crazy how a city can keep small pockets of the city clean and local crime away from tourist areas.

I live in Baltimore City and have to agree that it's troubled. Another thing that makes it difficult for the city to thrive is the abysmal schools. Middle schools and high schools are not assigned by neighborhood, but instead by a match system. In theory this offers opportunities for children in low-income neighborhoods that would otherwise have a too-small tax base for their local schools. In practice, it means nearly all city schools are horrible. "One-third of Baltimore High Schools in 2016 had zero students proficient in math. [0]" and "In fourth- and eighth-grade reading, only 13 percent of city students are considered proficient or advanced. In fourth-grade math, 14 percent were proficient and in eighth-grade math 11 percent met the mark. [1]"

Even living in the nicer, lower-crime neighborhoods isn't enough for families if the school options are untenable.

[0] https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/readersrespond/bs-...

[1] https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/education/k-12/bs...

And the 8th graders in downtown schools are reading at a 3rd grade level (according to teachers there). Due to our wonderful federal and state education system, schools are forced to pass kids or they get less funds. So not only can they barely read and write, they're forced on to more difficult subjects which it will be impossible for them to take on.

Besides the opioid epidemic, this is the next big epidemic: an entire generation of kids who are being doomed by horrible policies passed by politicians who will never be held accountable for them.

As a fellow Baltimorean, I just wanted to echo this sentiment. I have a one kid, and another on the way, and trying to find a reasonable neighborhood in the city to buy a house in is a nightmare. Really we can decide between Mt. Washington and Roland Park, but as you pointed out, even the high price tag to get into those neighborhoods doesn't help much with high school. I'm really at a loss for what to do, I'll probably try to move over the the county line into Pikesville or Catonsville.

Just curious, are you trying to stay super close to your job or is moving to Anne Arundel or Howard county an option for you?

I actually work in College Park, so it's a nightmare of a commute. My wife and I want to stay this far north because both of our families are here and help out a lot with childcare.

New York and Boston also have school choice systems. Neither have dismal schools across the board.

Yes, but (at least in New York) the school choice system still drives a non-trivial number of families to flee to the suburbs. Parents really value predictability, and the competitive application process doesn't provide that.

I'm not saying it's a bad system, but there's definitely a trade-off there.

> Middle schools and high schools are not assigned by neighborhood.

Also live in bmore. I think this is only for select top high schools like poly and is based on middle school grades and standardized test.

Agree tho that schools r shit.

All city high schools are assigned by choice/match. I think with middle schools it varies. https://www.baltimorecityschools.org/high-school-choice

San Francisco uses a lottery for every grade, beginning with pre-K. This causes intense anxiety among many parents. But San Francisco doesn't struggle with the same problems as Baltimore, certainly not to the same degree. In the case of elementary school, other than the chance of not getting the closest school, the anxiety is largely unwarranted, IMO. I'm not looking forward to junior or, especially, high school, though. Unless we end up going the Catholic school route, which is surprisingly cheap--significantly cheaper than daycare.

Anecdote: A parent from our kid's preschool once told me they had a conversation with the principal of one of our neighborhood elementary schools and upon inquiring about the relatively early start time the principal told him, or at least insinuated, that the start time was designed to dissuade cross-town parents from selecting the school, effectively gaming the lottery system to favor neighborhood families.

My mistake. Thank you!

Another problem with Baltimore is that the crime starts to leak out into the surrounding counties, so the effective crime rate is actually higher than what is reported for the city. Public transit was added that travels between Baltimore and some malls in the surrounding counties, causing areas that previously had little or no crime to experiencing an increase in break-ins and a couple of murders. You end up with counties trying to shut down the bus and train stations because the residents are tired of people from Baltimore riding out of the city, robbing stores and homes, then hopping back on the train to get away. It's obviously not everyone using the public transport, but it's enough that I don't go to the same malls I used to.

That's one of the things that destroyed Owings Mills. The mall there used to be the more expensive mall in the area. Slowly but surely, the metro station led to an uptick in crime. Stores shut down. Entire wings of the mall were empty. By the end, there were more homeless people sleeping in it than there were actual shoppers. The crime that led to that eventually spilled out into other areas of Owings Mills. And, coupled with a huge number of foreclosures in the area, the entire development has suffered. When I lived there, I was the lowest-class guy in the neighborhood, and I had a well-paying technology job for a defense contractor! It was full of middle class families from all backgrounds and races. By the time I left, though, the neighborhoods were falling apart. Houses deteriorating and empty. Shots being fired at the local community pool. You would have 30-40% of the houses on a given block either in foreclosure or on the brink. It's sad what became of that area.

Baltimore must have wonderful public transportation if criminals are able to use it to make their getaways. In most places you'd need your own car for that sort of escape...

Classic suburbia perception. When I lived in a place with a similar thought process, they were putting undercover cops on busses to find the (black) high school kids burglarizing homes during the day.

It ended up being a methhead painter who grew up in the neighborhood.

I can't speak to murders or other violent crime, but it was called the Loot Rail because of the prevalence of shoplifting after the line was opened into the suburbs.

Was this documented statistically, or just something people perceived, along with an increased presence of dark-skinned people?

It's documented somewhere, but I can't find it with a few minutes of searching. It's wildly racist and classist, but almost certainly true if you ignore "per capita" or other qualifiers.

Higher numbers of people in a location lead to more crimes occurring in that location, so "crime went up when the rail arrived" is almost a statistical certainty. It doesn't address the fact that crime may increase by 10% while the transit population goes up by 50%.

Even without a train line, I know of a dry suburban township that got a Walmart -- and its crime rate got much larger just because of all the people driving from out of town shopping at the Walmart.

What is the evidence that (1) this rise in crime rate occurred, and (2) was due to people conveniently combining their shopping trips with their crime trips?

(1) The crime rate increased -- like, Walmart-related crime was a big proportion of the crime rate. This was a community whose raunchiest establishment was an AMC theater.

(2) They weren't making "crime trips" -- they just came to shop at Walmart and crime happened. For example, shoplifting, on impulse. Some fights and such.

The point is, the crime caused by the train line may also partly be of this sort -- impulsive shoplifting, rather than deliberate shoplifting trips.

So the presence of a store lead to people shoplifting in said store? I suppose if the Wal-Mart were not there, the shoplifting wouldn't have happened. Perhaps we shouldn't have stores then.

Do you have any evidence of a crime increase aside from the existence of a store allowing people to shoplift from the store? I'm not asking for your perception here, because it has little to do with what the real crime rate is.

The shoplifting would have happened at other stores, in the townships where those people live -- other ones.

What do you mean evidence? I'm stating as an established fact that the township's crime rate increased. With people from out of town that were shopping at Walmart. The police keep track of this information.

You said the crime increased. It has in most places in the last few years, not just where there is Wal-Marts. It also fluctuates everywhere constantly. There was understandably an uptick of shoplifting at the Wal-Mart due to its existence, but how does it follow that that :

(1) The Wal-Mart caused an increase in total crime. Any place where people congregate will have more crime. The existence of the Wal-Mart may have displaced crime and shoplifting from elsewhere. The existence of the Wal-Mart means that crimes occur there, but that doesn't tell you anything one way or the other.

(2) If the crime was due to the Wal-Mart, it was mostly due to people coming in from out of the area. How many of the people caught were not from the area? How does this proportion differ from when the Wal-Mart wasn't there?

The claims you are making would be very hard to show for a hyper-local area from the rates of crime and the demographics of the perpetrators. It requires actual evidence, including a very large effect to offset the noisy small sample.

> Any place where people congregate will have more crime. The existence of the Wal-Mart may have displaced crime and shoplifting from elsewhere. The existence of the Wal-Mart means that crimes occur there,


> but that doesn't tell you anything one way or the other.

This directly contradicts your previous sentence.

No, it does not.

The claim is that crime increased due to out-of-area people coming to a Wal-Mart. People congregate in a Wal-Marts. The proportion of in- vs out- of-area people may differ, but there are a lot of people there. This means crime, especially because it is a store that can be shoplifted from. Much of this crime was displaced from elsewhere, because those same people weren't elsewhere.

In other words, it does not follow this crime was due to out-of-area people, since the crime would have increased regardless.

The rest of this thread (including the parent comment you were replying to) seemed to be about city vs suburbia, so that’s how I interpreted that Wal-Mart story. I’m not very familiar with the suburbanisation process in North America - I’ve never lived there - but wasn’t it driven by the desire of avoiding higher crime rates by moving to less densely populated areas? If so, local suburbanites must have hated that new Wal-Mart precisely because it was a point of congregation. Your reasoning is centered around “in vs out-of-area people” but the way I read it is just “not many people around vs lots of people around”.

The Walmart's existence as a crime nexus was because it attracted trashy people from other neighborhoods, not because it was a congregation point. The same problem didn't occur at previous superstores, or high school football games, or the community college.

Is this because Walmart is a low-price store? I'm not American so I have no idea

Partly that, partly it's a great store.

I really don't believe this is a thing. I think it's a myth.

But here's a case where some people from the COUNTY killed a family member, then came to Baltimore to pin it on a made up homeless person, because they figured everyone would believe it cause of everyone's assumptions about Baltimore.


The buses and trains leave on a schedule. It's kind of a crap getaway car if the police can identify which bus or train you're trying to take out.

I'm always fascinated by the latently-racist claims that public transit brings crime. There's never been any evidence for it, but that doesn't matter.

You call crime racist? I used to work in Owings Mills also. And the mall was the bomb. it was nice, clean, had every store you could want. I'd walk over for lunch regularly. After a few years... nope. Last time I walked thru that mall I was afraid of being mugged in daylight. 1/2 the stores closed. Somebody was killed between the mall and the light rail when it was just a path. While this was going on, the local business base increased. More companies moved in. More housing was built. But the crime overtook that. Everyone I knew that lived there sold and moved out. They kept their jobs there, but they left after work.

With section8, criminals can get housing outside of the city. Look at Columbia. IRS overrun

I used to like Baltimore. I'd take out-of-town company there. I'd take dates to the comedy clubs, pubs, eateries. Years later I worked in Baltimore, also at T. Rowe Price. 4 blocks up from the Inner Harbor, my friend was mugged at an ATM two times in two weeks. I had friends who starting keeping guns in their cars. We'd walk to the Harbor during the day. It felt safe then. Evenings, not so much. The squeegee boyz started harassing you if you stopped at a traffic light. "Give us money to wash your windows" they demanded. You'd nod "no" and they'd start anyway. Soon you figured to pay them Not to wash your windows. If they did wash them, they worse than bad. My friends and I stopped going to any of the bars or restaurants downtown, venturing out only in groups. Same with going to Orioles games, only in groups. My one friend is selling the townhouse he's owned for 25 yrs. He lived elsewhere, kept it rented, but had to renovate every 2 years when deadbeat tenants were finally evicted. He figures he lost $95k in lost rent, legal fees, and renovation. Thats doing the work himself. He figures he should have abandoned it 15yrs ago. I only go to Baltimore now when absolutely necessary, like a visit to Hopkins or such. I feel bad for the residents. And I feel bad for the police. Regarding the extra protection the Inner Harbor and maybe the casino gets, the taxes they pay are a huge part of what supports the city. One more thing - not trying to start a political fight. Baltimore has only had 4 Republican mayors in the last 100 years. Maybe something isn't working ideologically. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mayors_of_Baltimore

> Baltimore has only had 4 Republican mayors in the last 100 years. Maybe something isn't working ideologically.

I'll be downvoted to hell for saying this, but what you point out is an inconvenient truth. Nearly fifty years of blight and desolation, at what point does the other party get a shot? In places like this the Democrats are just a crooked patronage network.. both the source of and solution to their resident's problems...

Look at Maryland in general, they elected possibly the most moderate and centrist republican in the nation, and is generally respected across the spectrum. I wonder what would happen if one of these types had a term in the mayor's office.

I grew up near Baltimore and go through frequently. It's such a shame that what should be such a historic and interesting is so blighted. There are so many beautiful 19th-20th architectural gems that could provide it with so much character and liveliness, not to mention and proud community

In many ways this resembles 3rd-world democracy. People vote for "their" party on the basis of some historical or ethnic division, not on the basis of policies or results. Voting against it would be seen almost as some kind of treason.

And nowhere does this work well. What politician who doesn't fear being thrown out of office by unhappy voters will work hard every day to help them? If the party is guaranteed the vote, then instead they work every day at their own personal advancement, either literally in cash, or in their position in the party hierarchy. (Or at least, the only ones who survive in the system are those who do this -- same result.)

That misses the point entirely - prosperous cities are also heavily Democrat! It ammounts to blaming the voters because they can't compete locally at all. Given that

Their policies just plain don't appeal to the cities and pandering to xenophobes has given them a "not an option" status among minorities.They have kept on doubling down on alienating even religious conservative minorities who would otherwise be in line with their other values.

I watched a documentary about Drug dealers and smugglers operating in Baltimore. They interviewed one dealer who said, ever since Freddie Grays incident and the riots, the city has been busy passing laws that make Crime overall and selling drugs much easier. One of his favorite new laws said that Police couldn't do undercover sting operations anymore. He said the drug business is booming.

Hmm. So would legalization stamp out most of the problems?

If possessing/using drugs weren't a crime, then people would have less to say "I'm already breaking the law, fuck it"

You'd knock out most organized crime cause you cut their money from them.

If the city was willing to sell at cost (seriously, morphine and oxy isn't expensive to make at all), it would also destroy that economy, and potentially free some back in the hands of the people.

And at the bottom, it also looks to me is poverty and suffering, and people using drugs to buy a short while not thinking about it.

> If the city was willing to sell at cost (seriously, morphine and oxy isn't expensive to make at all), it would also destroy that economy, and potentially free some back in the hands of the people.

There is a proposal for heroin buyers clubs in British Columbia that has a lot of support: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/heroin-buyer...

Legalization not only cuts down crime (from both drug dealers and drug addicts), it prevents overdose deaths and reduces occurrences of medical emergencies and hospitalizations. The city can also collect taxes on the drugs.

This was already tried in Switzerland, with promising results: https://psychnews.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi...

Most notably, drug dealers lost financial incentive to hook new users up on the drug, so no new users anymore.

Edit: deleted

uhh, care to explain? as written, it's kinda hard to read this post charitably.

It was an error in my reading comprehension and understanding of English. Post has been deleted since it wasn't conveying what I wanted.

I didn't downvote you and I hope that my comment comes across as more similar to a vuln disclosure than a threat.

Your employer is listed in your HN profile. Assuming that you actually work for that company, you should be careful making such comments, even if your intent is completely benign.

When I was a reporter (I'm not anymore) I trawled HN comments for stories. It is not inconceivable that some Gizmodo-esque rag might write "[Redacted] Employee Making Racist Comments on Tech Forum" or whatever.

Ah, I wasn't trying to be racist in my post. But I see now how that could be read in a bad way.

I figured, since I'm familiar with some of the stats too. Just be careful out here on the internet :)

I didn't realize police prosecute unfairly and was just looking at the stats...a friend shared an article on the targeting/prosecution breakdown and it wasn't favorable for young Blacks in the U.S.

No, illegal drugs are just a small part of the problem. If every drug were legal there tomorrow you'd still have entire communities that have no access to a good education, healthy food, jobs, transportation, or affordable housing. Imagine an impoverished village in a 3rd world country, no natural resources, and constant violent tribal disputes. Whether drugs are legal there or not doesn't make a huge difference.

What’s the documentary?

It was on Netflix. I can't remember the name, maybe "Dope" or something with the word "Drugs" in the title. It was interesting because they showed perspectives from both sides. They interviewed drug dealers on one side, and also interviewed police officers on the other side too.

This article makes it out like the riots kick-started a new wave of violence. But homicides there had been tracking among the highest in the nation (nee the world) for a decade or more. The article won't give you a deep understanding of the problems Baltimore has been facing, but it's a good recap if you were already in the know.

By the way, that whole tangent about whether it should have been called 'unrest' or 'riots' is a false premise. Some of the people were lashing out against the police and symbols of injustice. And then there was the public housing old folks home that burnt to the ground. Or the old lady attacked by an intruder trying to steal a TV. Or the pharmacies that got raided by gangs to score cheap pills, and the subsequent mini-war after the plunge in black market prices. Or the firefighters who were pummeled by bricks and concrete while trying to put out the blazes. Some people were lashing out against a corrupt system, and some just wanted to burn the city down. When my friends were getting attacked in their homes and their cars destroyed on the street, my sympathy for those particular participants evaporated.

But even considering all that, I strongly feel our society has completely abandoned a vulnerable population, and fed the flames of conflict that arise when people can barely survive.

>Baltimore City and St. Louis are the only cities in the country not part of a surrounding county and not counties in and of themselves

>This fragmentation results in some stunning inefficiencies that have had a profoundly negative impact on the quality of life for residents in the St. Louis region. For example, not only do St. Louis County and City compete against each other for economic development, so do the 90 different municipalities. This results in massive corporate subsidies as municipalities try to outdo each other in order to attract businesses.


That’s not exactly true. In Virginia, cities are not “in” a county. Towns might be, I am not sure.

While this is true, cities in Virginia have governing authority almost identical to counties. Schools, roads, police, &c.

Is this different from Baltimore City though?

Yes, and no. In general in the most overview sense, Baltimore City has governing authority of a county, it is effectively a county jurisdiction.

However, Baltimore City actually has LESS autonomy over a variety of things than any other of the several cities I have previously lived in (even those which were in counties) -- the state government in Annapolis controls so many things that I'm used to being controlled much more at municipal level in other cities I've lived in. From liquor licenses, to schools, to the police department, many decisions are made at the state government legislative level. (The Baltimore City council has pretty much NO authority over the police at all -- it's all the state government in Annapolis).

I don't think this is necessarily related to Baltimore City being an independent county-level jurisdiction (although it might be). I think there are a variety of historical factors, stretching back to colonial times (when the Maryland colonial elites were in Annapolis, and never intended Baltimore to be a big city or power center at all, and viewed Baltimore's growth as a threat to their power), to Civil War times (the majority of Maryland, and Baltimore, (white of course) elites sympathized with the confederacy, but the union federal government basically took control of the MD state government -- cause if Maryland went confederacy, DC would be surrounded -- and made sure that confederate-sympathizing Baltimore had limited autonomy), to more recent times (white flight, racism and white supremacy, white people don't believe majority-Black Baltimore can be trusted to run itself).

Correct, cities in Virginia are independent [1]. Falls Church, for example, is an independent city, and has the governing power of a county, but is not in and of itself a "county" [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independent_city_(United_State...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falls_Church,_Virginia#Governm...

This is why so many articles pick up on "the most dangerous cities" and St. Louis leads the pack but most of these "news" articles are oblivious to the city/county division. Most of the residents who would call themselves St. Louisans do not live in the city of St. Louis but do live in one of the 90 municipalities within St. Louis county--as I do. However, most of the crime statistics come within only the much smaller city limits.

There is a movement now to combine the city with the county which would make St. Louis the ninth largest city in America. Crime statistics, obviously, would no longer be headline "news" for tabloid journalism.

I really hope corporate subsidies to businesses become a thing of the past.

They should be used to lift up communities that aren't doing well but then they should stop. For example, places New York that are already doing well should never offer subsidies.

I guess this should be a general principle. Give subsidies only to entities who need them and take them away once things are better,.

Why not just spend money from tax receipts to lift up communities instead of giving this easily corruptible power to people?

It's probably the same in the end.

"They also gave rise to Martin O’Malley, a city councilman who was elected mayor on an anti-crime platform in 1999. O’Malley set about implementing what was then known as the New York model: zero tolerance for open-air drug markets, data-centric “CompStat” meetings to track crime and hold police commanders accountable and more resources for law enforcement paired with tougher discipline for officers who abused their power. By the time O’Malley, a Democrat, was elected governor of Maryland in 2006, crime rates, including murders, had fallen across the board"

Geez, for how maligned it is, broken window policing seems to work - causally so. In this case, put it in and murder rates go down, take it out and murder rates go up.

I lived there then. The fallen crime rates got him elected, because his campaign was extremely effective in handwaving away the fact that national crime statistics had also fallen at approximately the same rates.

It's a cautionary tale in interpreting results in a vacuum.

A fairly detailed review of the evidence for broken windows policing:


It's a lot more complicated than "put it in, murders down, take it out, murders up".

You can look at a basket of cities throughout the 90s across NA and Europe and they all have comparable decreases in crime regardless of their use of « Broken Windows » policing.

How did crime rates move in cities not using broken window theory policing?

It moved downward at a similar rate. It had nothing to do with policing, broken-window or otherwise.

Hamsterdam is a great example of holding police commanders accountable. "The Wire"


Welcome to the follies of Democratic Party run cities. Where they control about every end of the process for decades, where the party is completely beholden to the Public Employee Unions, especially police but don't leave out educators and fire. When the same unions have rules in the contracts to insure good members can choose where not to work. where the politicians are only concerned about ribbon cutting, reelection, and money to their personal accounts and friends/relatives through PACs and government jobs.

Where looking out for political power of your party and self come before those who vote for you.

>>In hindsight, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the riot was probably avoidable — if Batts had had more officers at his disposal, if his officers had been better trained, if there hadn’t been the seeming overreaction to Monday’s swirling rumors.

Or... If they didn't murder Freddy Gray.

that's kinda like saying WWI could have been prevented if archduke ferdinand had taken a different route downtown. it might not have happened that day, but the powder keg was already primed and there are a lot of ways to spark it.

Sure, if you're looking at the specific event. But you could consider Freddie Gray part of a trend. Maybe the keg wouldn't have caught fire if we hadn't kept putting gunpowder in it?

I do consider Freddie Gray part of a trend, a trend that's been going on for a long time in this city. All I'm saying is a keg that's been stuffed full of powder for decades didn't go off just because they killed one guy.

One helpful survival tactic in Baltimore is, if you are an outsider, make sure to nod and say Hello to the porch sitters, the older folks sitting outside on their steps chatting and keeping an eye on things. It gives one a friendly feeling. And, I've been steered away from trouble several times by friendly advice from the porch sitters.

I haven't been to Baltimore, but this book, Ghettoside, tells a story about how the police in Watts and South Central LA, with their hands tied, tried to balance policing, justice and community engagement. So much similarity to what is happening in B'more. Good read. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/11434259/Ghettosid...

I lived near Baltimore until 2012. Back then they were on an upward path. Pretty sad to hear that things have gone down again. It also shows how fragile improvements are. they can get lost quickly.

This is a remarkably balanced and powerful piece of journalism. Kudos to the reporter and The NY Times here.

Something cultural happened in the 1980s, I think across N.America. From my perspective, Atari and then, Nintendo killed playgrounds. Culture split into urbran, grunge, and pop.

It was weird generation to be in. The Baby Boomers were all settling into their careers (mid-career to retirement). Their children all hitting their teens about the same time 80s/90s. The population was growing older, and quickly. As the two main groups, Boomers, and Gen X, were both transitioning to more mature roles; mid-level managers and teens.

The sense of utopia that younger people could feel in the 50s and 60s was gone. People, as a whole, started to worry about retirement. As people get older they get more conservative.

As the Boomers left school, the money was cut. The new buildings in the 1950s had worn out. Their children now entering school now had their music programs cut, and saw the cracks in the walls.

Everything was just grungy.

What happened in the 1980s was the culmination of Baltimore's deindustrialization. Baltimore had the misfortune of having every single one of its major job-producing industries decimated by globalization and consolidation. Manufacturing, steel, automobiles, shipbuilding were all killed by globalization, containerization basically wiped out port jobs, and consolidation of the insurance and banking industries wiped out Baltimore's medium skill white-collar jobs (Baltimore used to be a regional insurance/banking center). What was left of banking and insurance after consolidation got wiped out by technology. I know a guy who got laid off consecutively by three different banks before he finally gave up on the banking industry in Baltimore.

And therein lies the solution to Baltimore's problems. If you were to somehow provide 30-50,000 low-skill living-wage jobs and maybe an additional 10-15,000 medium-skill white-collar jobs, you could start to "fix" Baltimore. Because the net effect of all those people having money to spend plus the halo effect adding another 10-15,000 jobs (providing new services for all those working people) would be so massive it would change the city. The problem is really just that simple -- total lack of economic opportunity for a large fraction of Baltimore's population who are lacking in skills or education.

Baltimore has "good bones" but intractable economic problems. And the root problem is, how would you provide those jobs? If I had that answer, I'd run for emperor of Baltimore.

The only solution I can think of is a long term educational plan. Good edu spending and strategy is the only stimulus that really pays off.

> Something cultural happened in the 1980s, I think across N.America.

Possibly also relevant is this graph: https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/624/media/images/74298000/gif/...


Birth rates for the last 100 years. You can exactly see the 1929, 1979 and 2008 economic crashes; just by observing birth rates.

Sometimes we look for complexity, and overlook the boring demographic stats. We need to take demographics more seriously.

I can't really see anything in your graph that could relate to the 2008 economic crash. I mean, I guess there might be a tiny divot, but it looks pretty small.

Whatever point that graph is attempting to make is lost by having no axis labels, no units, and no legend.

There is a painful but telling postscript to the excellent article about the tragedy of crime in Baltimore and the ineffectiveness if not obliviousness of the city's mayor to stop it. Last night, March 11, during the three hours between 6 and 9 p.m. in Baltimore, four people were shot. This evening, March 12, within 24 hours of these shootings, Baltimore's Mayor, Catherine Pugh, is hosting a birthday party for herself and asking attendees for $6,000 for her re-election. What more is there to say!

The tragedy of Baltimore is that it has been run by a single party since forever. O'Malley is an exemplar of the kind of leadership the city has had:


Spaces (like wework) has 3 floors here. This area near Ravens Football stadium is definitely getting better. But it is one of the areas that the city cares about over other areas unfortunately.

https://bit.ly/2XRl0fu (google maps)

Baltimore is totally routinely unsafe for a great many people who spend time there.

I think it's important to remember that it's actually LEAST safe for the people who have LEAST power. Mostly poor Black people, or people in poor Black neighborhoods. As the article hints at, with people who live in poor Black neighborhoods saying they are amazed that the tourist/professional inner harbor is a "normal" place to walk around, while they're scared to go outside where they live. MOST violence is between people who know each other, often drug trade related. Those with the least social power have the LEAST ability to protect themselves from routine violence.

Which isn't to say it's not also unsafe even for the powerful. It's like the opposite of "trickle down" though. Trickle up. I think sometimes the powerful can forget that however unsafe they feel, most poor people in poor neighborhoods in Baltimore (and most poor neighborhoods are Black neighborhoods) are EVEN LESS SAFE. The powerful can make it an "us and them" thing, they think they need to defend themselves against the poor and Black, who are criminals.

In fact, Baltimore has, for years, been run for the comfort and benefit of people and groups that are already the most powerful. Like probably most cities in the U.S., but Baltimore has it bad. It sometimes seems like the comfort and safety of professional mostly white people is the only thing the city government cares about. (It is a mystery to me why some kind of accountability to the majority population doesn't seem to be necessary for electoral victory by politicians).

That's what got us into this, it's not gonna get us out. You can't abandon most of the city to a post-apocalyptic wasteland and not even think about them, and not have it effect the powerful too. (Of course even if it didn't, it would be morally repellent. But it doesn't work that way, chickens come home to roost). This is why rich people in the third world generally live behind walls with armed guards and don't go out in 'ordinary' neighborhoods -- Baltimore is a warning of how the whole U.S. will be if we keep going in third world directions of distribution of wealth and power between the rich who have it all and the poor who have nothing. Can't we figure out to treat everyone as humans instead?

I don't think technocratic solutions are going to do it, it's not about who has the best "anti-violence program", it's about integrating the disenfranchised into the economy (jobs) and political power structures, so their neighborhoods aren't like places where society has collapsed Mad Max style. There's no way you can live in (OR next to) such a neighborhood and be safe, and there's no way you can recover such a neighborhood with just the application of an occupying police army, the problem is it's ALREADY a war zone, it doesn't need more fighters (who in Baltimore are INCREDIBLY corrupt and untrustworthy too. Seriously Mad Max over here).

1. Many of the Freddie Gray protestors were not locals, they were bused in.

2. Police took a hands-off approach after Freddie Gray, causing a predictable increase in crime.

You're full of shit. I was a Freddie Gray protestor and I lived in the city. There wasn't a single bus from anywhere.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact