In Bal­ti­more, a city of vi­o­lence and his­tory, there aren’t many Trump sup­port­ers,

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - Rosie DiManno

BAL­TI­MORE, MD.— Fred­die Gray was a black man whose life — and death — mat­tered.

Out of the 344 homi­cides recorded in this city last year, it sym­bol­i­cally mat­tered most of all: A sec­ond­de­gree “de­praved heart” mur­der, in the al­most po­etic le­gal lan­guage of Mary­land, as the in­dict­ment read, mean­ing ex­treme or wan­ton in­dif­fer­ence to a per­son’s life. It al­lows for an in­di­vid­ual to be charged with sec­ond-de­gree mur­der with­out the pros­e­cu­tion hav­ing to prove that death was in­tended.

On a sunny day in the blighted black north­west neigh­bour­hood of Sand­town-Winchester — Sunday morn­ing com­ing down — try to talk about the up­com­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion with res­i­dents and the con­ver­sa­tion in­evitably curls around to “Fred­die.” “What does Don­ald Trump know about how we live here?” asks Monique Mitchell, hoist­ing a bag of gro­ceries in one of the few area cor­ner stores that haven’t been boarded up or shut down, espe­cially since the fire and fury that fol­lowed Gray’s death. “Not say­ing that Hil­lary Clin­ton un­der­stands it ei­ther. But I know Trump don’t care.

“If Trump be­comes pres­i­dent, there’s gonna be more Fred­die Grays across this coun­try and more po­lice who think they can get away with it.”

The day be­fore, at a rally in North Carolina, the Repub­li­can can­di­date had put his hands to­gether to ap­plaud sup­port­ers wav­ing signs that read: Blacks For Trump.

There are no such signs in Sand­town-Winchester, a no­to­ri­ous neigh­bour­hood of derelict hous­ing and chronic vi­o­lence that had a star­ring role in the crit­i­cally ac­claimed TV se­ries The Wire. And no­body, from among two dozen peo­ple in­ter­viewed Sunday by the Star, has any truck with Trump.

A grand jury in­di­cated half a dozen Bal­ti­more cops mere weeks after Gray died in April 2015, never emerg­ing from the coma into which he had fallen while in po­lice cus­tody, while be­ing trans­ported in a po­lice van from the Gil­mor Homes projects, fol­low­ing his ar­rest for . . . what? Mak­ing sus­pi­cious eye con­tact with one of the of­fi­cers who clocked him early that morn­ing, then run­ning away, be­ing chased, caught, which was when an of­fi­cer no­ticed a knife clipped in­side Gray’s pocket. A spring-as­sisted knife, vi­o­la­tion of a city code, and Gray would have been charged had he not so in­con­sid­er­ately suf­fered se­vere in­juries to his neck and spinal col­umn while bounc­ing around, un­se­cured, in the back of that van.

Un­buck­led, al­legedly de­lib­er­ately, for 11 min­utes of er­ratic driv­ing, then placed in leg irons — mo­tion­less at that point, as caught by cell­phone video. About 20 min­utes later, paramedics were sum­moned. De­spite emer­gency surgery for three frac­tured ver­te­brae, a crushed voice box, his spine 80-per-cent sev­ered from his neck, Gray never re­gained con­scious­ness.

Ri­ots erupted in the streets of Sand­town-Winchester. The fury was di­rected at law en­force­ment, but black-on-black crime spiked in sub­se­quent months as po­lice were fear­ful of en­ter­ing the dis­trict. Killings across the city sky­rock­eted, top­ping 30 or 40 a month, gun vi­o­lence up more than 75 per cent, up­ward of 900 peo­ple shot by the time 2015 stag­gered off the cal­en­dar.

More than 90 per cent of the vic­tims were male, men and boys, and more than 90 per cent were black. More than half were be­tween the ages of 18 and 30. Nearly two dozen were chil­dren, in­clud­ing tod­dlers, the in­no­cent collateral dam­age of ur­ban war­fare, struck by bul­lets in­tended for oth­ers. Fifty-five murders for ev­ery 100,000 res­i­dents, mak­ing it the high­est per-capita mur­der rate in the city’s his­tory. Bal­ti­more, Chicago and Washington, D.C., are Amer­ica’s mur­der cap­i­tals.

Bal­ti­more: Where reg­is­tered Democrats out­num­ber Repub­li­cans by 2-to-1. They haven’t seen much of stump­ing Trump in these parts, though he did drop into a lo­cal diner some months back.

Bal­ti­more: Where Mary Pick­ers­gill stitched to­gether the orig­i­nal Stars and Stripes (now in the Smith­so­nian) that in­spired Fran­cis Scott Key to write “The Star-Span­gled Ban­ner”; now a me­trop­o­lis of de­cay­ing and dy­ing neigh­bour­hoods and dy­ing civil­ians.

They don’t feel dis­en­fran­chised nec­es­sar­ily — an­tic­i­pa­tion about Tues­day’s out­come is as keen here as any­where else in the coun­try — but they don’t feel aban­doned and leery of how much fur­ther they’ll slide into mis­ery un­der a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. The hope­ful­ness that blos­somed with the elec­tion of a black man into the Oval Of­fice has faded, though few in these projects blame Barack Obama for prom­ises un­re­al­ized.

“Hon­estly, if I had a choice I would vote Obama back in, but I can’t,” says She­wan Owens, 40, sit­ting on the steps of her projects town­house. “But I def­i­nitely don’t want Trump, so Clin­ton it is.

“Trump is a busi­ness­man and I’m not tak­ing that away from him. But I don’t like a lot of things that he says, espe­cially about my peo­ple, black peo­ple, and about Lati­nos. We all make up the coun­try, all races, colours and creeds. So some­one who has that much power needs to love every­body, not just the rich peo­ple, not just white Amer­ica.”

Owens has a 26-year-old son who’s a mu­si­cian and train­ing as a mor­ti­cian — one pro­fes­sion that hasn’t seen a down­turn in Bal­ti­more. “I fear for him. I worry about him ev­ery time he walks out the door, be­cause he’s a young black man in Amer­ica. Even though he’s not ‘in the streets,’ you know? In­no­cent by­standers get killed, too. It’s from our young black men be­ing tar­geted, not just by po­lice but by each other as well. (I) fear for him.”

Owens lives just around the cor­ner from where Gray was chased down by po­lice that fate­ful day. She wit­nessed the ri­ots that hap­pened al­most on her doorstep. “It was so un­nec­es­sary but at the same time nec­es­sary. Un­nec­es­sary be­cause of the fires and all the dam­ages, the busi­nesses that are ir­re­place­able. A lot of our stores have not re­opened. But nec­es­sary be­cause peo­ple fi­nally opened their eyes.’’

Across the street, Eric Jones is on his way to the Bal­ti­more Raven­sPitts­burgh Steel­ers NFL game but halts for a bit of a gab. He’s 54, a navy vet­eran who worked for 12 years as a plum­ber after his hon­ourable dis­charge. But he hasn’t worked since, he says, after po­lice pounded the crap out of him just a few weeks be­fore the Gray in­ci­dent, caus­ing a brain in­jury.

“Mis­taken iden­tity, they charged me with pos­ses­sion and in­tent. But I had no drugs on me. I was get­ting off work, just walk­ing home.”

He was charged with re­sist­ing ar­rest but was ac­quit­ted at trial. The drug charges were dropped.

“Trump keeps talk­ing about this New Amer­ica. Where is that? I live in Old Amer­ica and in Old Amer­ica, be­cause of my brain in­jury, I need health in­sur­ance.”

It’s the most cru­cial is­sue of this elec­tion, to Jones. “In Trump’s New Amer­ica, he says he’s go­ing to get rid of Oba­macare right off the top. How is that good for Amer­ica, putting peo­ple off health in­sur­ance?”

Oba­macare is ar­guably the great­est achieve­ment of this ad­min­is­tra­tion and Trump has vowed to dis­man­tle it, which could re­turn 20 mil­lion Americans to the ranks of the unin- sured. In Bal­ti­more, about 62,000 peo­ple are on So­cial Se­cu­rity Dis­abil­ity In­sur­ance, Sup­ple­men­tal Se­cu­rity In­come or are en­rolled in the Tem­po­rary Dis­abil­ity As­sis­tance Pro­gram.

Denise Walker has lived here­abouts all of her 50 years. She be­lieves the “Fred­die ri­ots” gal­va­nized this com­mu­nity. “We are stick­ing to­gether more than ever.”

Her vote is go­ing to Clin­ton, con­temp­tu­ous as she is of Trump. “The orang­utan — that’s what I call him, or­ange-TAN. He all for him­self. Now, Hil­lary ain’t no God­send ei­ther, some­thing real shifty about her. But com­pared to Trump? There is no com­par­i­son.

“Here’s some­thing else I can’t stand about him. Trump said Hil­lary had to call in Jay-Z and Bey­oncé to help her with the black vote. Well what about him? He called in the Ku Klux Klan!”

On his front stoop, Der­rod Ram­seur in­hales deeply on a joint. He’s 28 years old, won­ders where his life is go­ing. “I was caught up with a bad crowd when I was younger. Wrong turns man, too many wrong turns. If I knew then what I know now, I’d prob­a­bly be in col­lege in­stead of sit­ting on this stupid stoop.”

Out of all the Star in­ter­views Sunday, only Ram­seur ad­mit­ted he won’t be vot­ing at all come Tues­day.

“What for? Makes no dif­fer­ence here on Ful­ton Street. This is my re­al­ity.”

Postscript: Early this year, Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan signed off on a $700-mil­lion re­vi­tal­iza­tion pro­gram for Bal­ti­more, which will see the city de­mol­ish about 4,000 derelict prop­er­ties, con­vert­ing them into green spa­ces for de­vel­op­ers to build new homes and busi­nesses.

Six of­fi­cers were in­dicted in the death of Fred­die Gray on charges rang­ing from sec­ond-de­gree mur­der, man­slaugh­ter, reck­less en­dan­ger­ment, il­le­gal ar­rest and mis­con­duct. Three were ac­quit­ted in court, a mis­trial was de­clared for an­other due to a dead­locked jury. This past June, all re­main­ing charges were dropped.

No­body will be held crim­i­nally re­spon­si­ble. Rosie DiManno usu­ally ap­pears Mon­day, Wed­nes­day, Fri­day and Satur­day.

JOHN RAOUX/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Bal­ti­more black com­mu­nity’s hope­ful­ness after Barack Obama’s two vic­to­ries has faded.

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