My wife, CP contributor Nicole King (pictured, left), and I were sitting in a park sipping from a big bottle of beer as dogs frolicked and people talked softly and drank. When our beer was empty and we were hungry, we decided to go and eat in one of the numerous ethnic restaurants with outdoor seating. It was slightly chilly and on the back of each chair there was a nicely folded blanket you could drape over your shoulders or use to cover your legs. It was Nicole’s favorite thing.
Though globalized culture meant that the restaurants were virtually the same as those near our home in Mount Vernon, clearly, this was not Baltimore.
Last week, I took my first vacation since starting at the paper a couple years ago. But since it is my job to know as much as possible about a city I love, I can’t quit thinking about work even when I’m not supposed to be working, so we—or rather Nicole—knew that we had to go somewhere far. We went to Berlin. No reason, really. Art, beer, walking.
It turned out to be a nice time to leave America. The country seemed like a nightmarescape as we boarded the plane and turned off our cellphones with the Ferguson army, I mean police force, shooting tear gas into crowds.
As it turned out, one of the nicest things about Berlin is that it didn’t feel like a police state. Sure, the U.S. was probably still monitoring my data usage even there—but we weren’t using much and the German government doesn’t seem to engage in the same Stasi-like surveillance as the NSA. I mean really, Hitler and the Stalinist East German secret police would jizz all over their jackboots to have the surveillance and repressive capabilities of our government.
The German government trusted me to walk into a kiosk and buy a beverage that was 5 percent alcohol and it trusted that I could drink it wherever I wanted. Occasionally in the parks here you’ll see some people drinking. If they are white and drinking wine, they are often unmolested by the law, whereas if they are black and the alcohol is in a brown paper bag, they probably will be. But even those white citizens are in violation of the law. Once, CP food writer Ryan Detter, photographer J.M. Giordano, and some others of us were drinking some of Detter’s homebrew in a Mount Vernon park. A cop came up and told us that it was cool as long as we kept it out of sight. “But if a neighbor calls, I’ll have to cite you. And if you don’t have ID I’ll have to take you in.” He didn’t want to do that, but we have a system that forces him to put limits on our freedom.
Why? The only feasible answer is for the sake of order and safety. So, no public drinking here in Baltimore, because we would become unruly. But you could drink in public in Berlin, and yet they had these nice blankets that could sit out on chairs at restaurants and nobody fucked with them: They weren’t in wet piles in the gutter, or stolen, or draped over telephone lines. Clearly, beer drinking is not the only sign of civilization, but it is one of them—it is a very small emblem that the government actually believes its citizens should be free.
But we have less freedom and less order. How the fuck did that happen? I mean, Berlin was bombed to shit right as Baltimore was at its height. It was controlled by fucking Nazis and then split in half and yet its citizens—no, its government—can handle itself with more responsibility than ours? What the fuck?
There are a couple answers people might give:
1) German national character is orderly.
Uhh, you sound like a fucking Nazi.
2) Germany doesn’t have the same kind of racial problems we have.
Uhh, you sound like you’re fucking a Nazi.
3) Our attempts at control lead to a lack of control.
When we try to regulate individuals, we create disorder. We have officially taken up the fascist goal of limiting individual liberty while increasing corporate power. We should be the opposite—liberaltarianism, if you will. The individual should be entirely free—until infringing upon the liberty of another—while the corporate body should be limited. We currently do the opposite and it is morally and practically indefensible.
We could reverse this in Baltimore. Because I had missed work for a week, I wasn’t able to make it out to Darlington for the Fields Festival. And while people have been going outside the walls of the city to get their Dionysian dance on ever since a certain Stranger strolled into Thebes, the city should make room for festivals like this inside the city. Instead, they crack down on the Dionysian D.I.Y. spaces, they crack down on the hubs of the culture that they say makes the city vibrant. And then they give all the breaks to Horseshoe Casino. We live in an insane place.
But, we could reverse the stupid broken-window theory. We could quit worrying about all of the idiotic small things people might do to hurt themselves and focus only on the things they do to hurt other people. It is the only way to deal with the magnitude of crime in our city and the dignity of the individuals who live here. Only if we are free to actually regulate our own lives as individuals, will we have solid collective lives in the city.
The choice, it seems, is not between freedom and safety. Instead, it is freedom and safety vs. disorder and repression. Bunny Colvin might understand, but $RB and Obama clearly do not.