Editorial: Charm City and "The Wire": An American tale of two cities
● By Richard Gaw
There is a gentle Baltimore, where we go with our hands clasped in our childrens' hands, and there is a dangerous Baltimore, where if we are not careful, we can be killed.
One is known for an inner harbor, a ballpark, an aquarium, and museums – the mass-marketed conglomeration of commerce, recreation and history, homogenized for the comfort of an overwhelmingly white suburban population who expect two things from their American cities: to have fun, and to never be afraid.
The other, mere blocks away, is so markedly different that it seems to us to be tethered to another form of existence, one so divorced from our way of living that its depravity is almost surreal. It is the part of the City of Baltimore – neighborhoods far to the east and west of the Inner Harbor – that now burns out of a mindless and violent sense of retaliation and anger. They burn in the name of a 25-year-old African-American named Freddie Gray who died at the hands of predominantly white Baltimore police force.
We in Chester County are not connected to the terrible collapse of a city going on less than two hours from where we live. From the comfort of our oversized television screens, we see drugstores erupt in flames and smoke; we see the sight of police attacked by garbage cans and bricks; and we follow the cameras as they flicker and float among the chaos and the rubble. It feels as if we are there. But we are not. Less than two hours from the burning city, we are free to render our viewpoints with no more emotion than a viewing of "The Wire," which depicted the other side of Baltimore for 60 episodes over five seasons like it was a documentary of rage.
It is illogical for any right-thinking person to believe that the sickening incidents of retaliation that have stormed through Baltimore in the last few days can in any way be justified. They perpetuate nothing but fire added to fuel; they have soiled the memory of the man for whom these acts have taken place; and their repercussions, many fear, will cast a war of division that will undermine the peaceful protests that were done in an effort to address police brutality.
Although we are right to condemn the recent acts of violence and vandalism that splash across our television screens, are we right in also condemning the rights of the protestors, whose peaceful assemblage preceded the incidents of the past few days? Can we, who have never known such egregious brutality, even begin to understand what it is like to live in a part of America where the threat of police misconduct is as constant as the sunrise?
In 2013, David Simon, the creator of "The Wire," gave an impromptu speech about the divide between rich and poor in America. In it, he said that the show was "about people who were worth less and who were no longer necessary. ...It was about them trying to solve, for lack of a better term, an existential crisis. In their irrelevance, they were nonetheless still on the ground occupying this place called Baltimore and they were going to have to endure somehow."
We can choose to either criticize a world we do not know, or we can demand, like the peaceful protestors of Baltimore, answers. Solutions. Coalitions. Dialogue.
"Yes, there is a lot to be argued, debated and addressed," Simon wrote on his blog on Monday. "And this moment, as inevitable as it has sometimes seemed, can still, in the end, prove transformational, if not redemptive for our city."
Such debate can also prove transformational here in Chester County, less than two hours from where a city now burns.