Baltimore is safe

RND exclusive - Baltimore: A Visit to Trump's "Rat Nest"

It's actually about rats. But the first thing the visitor gets to see that day are oysters. They are raised in wire baskets on the quays of the inner harbor of Baltimore - not for human consumption, of course, but to later be used as natural water filters in the Chesapeake Bay. Demonstration objects are exhibited on the lively promenade. You can touch the rough shell of the noble mussels.

“Just Play!” - just play - is written on colorful flags along the promenade, over which white and black young people zoom on e-scooters while tourists enjoy the view of the water with a glass of beer or wine. "No human being would want to live here," said Donald Trump. There is something wrong with the American president. Or with Baltimore. Or both.

In fact, the port city on the American Atlantic coast has long been struggling with its bad image. The decline of heavy industry has hit them hard. The predominantly black population has shrunk from one million to 615,000 since the end of World War II. “O Baltimore! Man, is it hard just to live, just to live, ”Randy Newman complained wistfully in a famous song in 1977. A quarter of a century later, the drama series "The Wire" painted a bleak picture of drug trafficking, corruption and crime in the city. With a wild Twitter tirade, in which he defamed the birthplace of the US national anthem as a "disgusting, rat and rodent-infested bastard", Trump has now finally ruined the reputation at the weekend.

The series "The Wire" already painted a gloomy picture of the city

“I'll be the last to say there are no problems,” says Leon Pinkett. The eloquent city council climbs down the steps of the city hall in an elegant dark blue suit. A proud dome sits enthroned on the four-story Empire-style building. An orange plastic bangle with the inscription "Stop the violence!" Peeps out from under Pinkett's shirt cuff. Yes, there is too little affordable housing, the infrastructure is deteriorating, and there are deficits in schools, admits the Democratic politician: "But there are many cities."

"I'll be the last to say there are no problems," says Councilor Leon Pinkett. Source: Karl Doemens

Two decades ago Pinkett studied for a semester in Munich. That was a great time, he reports. But he was born and raised in Baltimore, and this is where he lives with his family. “I just looked at the menu again,” jokes the African American with the well-groomed three-day beard bitterly: “Baltimore is in the USA. And the president is responsible for the country. ”Pinkett sees the lack of job opportunities among the black underclass as an important cause of the high crime rate in the city. The local politician demands that the president should take action here. Instead, he exacerbates the problem by badmouthing the community and tearing huge holes in public finances with tax cuts.

Less than 5 kilometers separate the city center and the poor district

It all sounds very reasonable. And yet, when driving through Pinkett's constituency, one cannot help but get the impression that the problems are a little bigger than the politician describes them. Less than five kilometers separate the city center from the poor district of West Baltimore, where many episodes of "The Wire" took place. There are no shops here. Instead, countless dilapidated houses with broken roofs and barred doors and windows. Lost figures stagger along the roadsides in a drug frenzy. Dirt and trash are lying around on the sidewalks. A hydrant was broken into on a street corner. A dog seeks cooling in the massive jet of water. “Which three things in life are free?” Someone sprayed on the wooden crate of a ruin a few streets away: “1. Education, 2. imprisonment, 3. death. ”It is supposed to be an encouragement. But for many here there only seems to be the last two options.

When darkness falls, it becomes dangerous in some corners. Life threatening. With more than 300 murders a year, Baltimore is one of the most violent cities in the United States. You can follow the development on a daily basis on a website on the Internet. Every murder is recorded with the date and details of the victim. Virtual needles on a city map indicate the crime scene. In that hot July alone, 39 people were killed. If you fight your way through the statistics of horror, you will notice that only two of them were white.

When it gets dark in Baltimore, things get dangerous

Baltimore is a divided city. While the fountains splash in bourgeois Mount Vernon and the world-famous Baltimore Symphony Orchestra plays in the Meyerhoff Concert Hall, the city further to the west or north actually seems as depressing as it was portrayed in "The Wire". Nonetheless, David Simon, the screenwriter of the series, is strongly opposed to the political rights taking over his series. “We're having a party in our block today,” he wrote over the weekend in response to a photo that showed him with a guitar on the steps of his house: “This is a city with good Americans who earn something different than a fraudulent, dull and self-obsessed failures like their president. ”Since then, he's fired one tweet after the other. Trump is abusing the city to incite its uncomfortable black MP Elijah Cummings, who heads the House Control Committee, argues the author: "The complex problems of Baltimore do not interest him in the slightest."

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You can see it in a similar way with the local newspaper "Baltimore Sun". Under the pressure of economic conditions, the editorial team moved to the industrial area on the outskirts, but continues to critically monitor the development of local politics, which are rich in corruption scandals. It wasn't until May that Black Mayoress Catherine Pugh was forced to resign after the newspaper revealed that she had sold a children's book she had written to city corporations for half a million.

"This city has a lot of problems," says opinion editor Peter Jensen of the "Baltimore Sun". Source: Karl Doemens

“This city has a lot of problems,” says opinion editor Peter Jensen. Nevertheless, he delivered the most powerful counterattack against Trump's failure at the weekend, for which he has been celebrated on the net ever since. With his wide suspenders and rolled up shirt sleeves, from which two massive forearms well up, Jensen seems to have sprung from a journalist film from the last century. He has been writing comments in his newspaper for 15 years, six a week. By now 3,000 have come together, he calculates with amusement: "But this one was a little different."

Jensen actually wanted to enjoy his Saturday off when he heard about Trump's tweet. “The president calls my home the worst place in the world that is unsuitable for human settlement?” He reports: “I thought maybe I should say something about that.” But it wasn't just local patriotism that drove the 59-year-old to his desk. The journalist was certain that the repulsive rat metaphor "contained a lot of racism". After a brief discussion with his boss, Jensen was certain: "This is the one chance to fight back." In a short time he hacked a brilliant statement with the president into the paper. "It's better to have a couple of rats than to be one," he wrote about it - a deliberate crossing of boundaries. “All the newspapers have struggled with how they deal with the Trump phenomenon. Usually we stick to the rules while he's marauding like a street fighter, "says Jensen:" But sometimes you have to choose an emotional language to make the seriousness of the situation clear. "

Many in Baltimore believe that Trump's attacks are aimed at the black majority

Jensen knows what he is talking about: In the midst of the heated mood against the “lying press” by Trump, a confused man at the sister paper “The Capital” shot five colleagues last year. Since then, a security guard has been protecting the editorial offices of the "Sun".

Many in Baltimore are convinced that the president attacked the city mainly because the majority of its population is black. "That didn't surprise me at all," says Kobi Little: "This is the local variant of his shithole countries." Little is sensitized: the Baptist pastor worked in Tanzania for seven years before he took over the leadership of the local group of the black civil rights movement NAACP . On the surface, Trump describes objective grievances, the 48-year-old analyzes in a calm voice: "In fact, he uses a dog whistle to stir up his base with hostile language." The association of dirt, laziness and brutality with African Americans has a long tradition among white racists , criticizes Little: "There is a direct connection to slavery and its politics." Of course, Trump is not talking about that.

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Again allegations of racism against US President Donald Trump - there is resistance

"I hope that the hatred this man sends out strengthens the country's resistance," says Pastor Kobi Little. Source: Karl Doemens

Nevertheless, Little is demonstratively optimistic in the conversation: "I hope that the hatred this man is sending out strengthens the country's resistance." In Baltimore you can actually get a little bit of this impression. "I received tons of letters, most of them positive," reports the journalist Jensen: "A lot of people are angry with the president." Just hours after the Twitter tirade from the White House, thousands gathered on the net behind the hashtag #WeAreBaltimore. The local newspaper's editorial broke all records with 3.7 million page views. "Trump underestimated the pride of the people here," believes City Councilor Pinkett: "Baltimore has grown together in a way that I have never seen before." How robust this movement is has yet to be proven. In any case, the oysters from the harbor basin are to be released in nine months.

By Karl Doemens / RND