You’ve lost my respect.
The front page cover “art” (July 16) of City Paper is a prime example of our local media’s role in perpetrating institutional racism and structural biases in our City. Not only is this graphic ignorant, it is outright offensive.
Sure, I bet there were a few laughs in the editorial room about the stereotypes of various neighborhoods across the city. And, sure, a cartoonish sketch of widely inaccurate generalizations is a good, cheap way to cause a bit of controversy, maybe it even garnered a few more page views or clicks to sell to advertisers. But, the outright labeling of entire communities to perpetuate negative, inaccurate, and racist stereotypes is wrong. It’s simply wrong.
While there are plenty of concerns to point out in this cover graphic, the one that strikes me as the most infuriating centers on the graphic’s labeling of South Baltimore’s neighborhoods of Cherry Hill, Lakeland, Mount Winans, and Westport as “Scaryscape.”
While I happen to represent these communities in the Maryland Senate, I write this letter as a citizen of Baltimore City, one who actually spends time with the people and families who live, work, and play in these communities. Haven’t been there lately? Because if you had spent any time in these neighborhoods at all in the last few years, you’d know like I do, just how wrong you are.
I wish you could have joined me last Saturday, when a community leader (one who happens to also coach the Cherry Hill Eagles youth football team and who grew up in Cherry Hill) used his own, personal money to throw an all-day community outreach cookout to offer healthy, fun activities for neighborhood children. He even threw in a full, 45-minute magic show. I also didn’t see you at the many gatherings this summer hosted by area churches or civic groups like the Spelman Road Gentleman’s Club, a group of men who grew up in Cherry Hill (surprisingly, on Spelman Road) and for years have been dedicating their personal time and money to giving back to their community by sponsoring awesome events for the neighborhood’s youth. I guess you were busy.
Or maybe you could have joined me at Lakeland Elementary/Middle School a month ago for the eighth grade promotion ceremony, where the audience was visibly moved by the remarkable young men and women preparing for the next chapter in their lives. Did you know that Lakeland ES/MS happens to be one of the fastest and most dramatically improving public schools in the city? You must have missed the news of the transformative partnership that Lakeland has launched with UMBC’s Sherman Scholars Program to infuse high-level STEM learning opportunities across all grades and accessible to all students. I guess those promising facts don’t easily fit in the “Scaryscape” narrative.
Or maybe you happened to miss the remarkable work that Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake is doing with and among community leaders in Mount Winans. Remember that old public school that sat vacant and dilapidated for over 20 years right in the middle of the neighborhood, and those concrete-blocked vacant public housing units? Maybe those were scary. Well, they’re all gone. They were demolished this year and are being replaced with recreational green space and remarkable opportunities for positive economic development in communities that have been too long ignored.
You must have tuned out to the word of community organizing happening in Cherry Hill around the construction of two brand new public schools, slated to open for the 2016 school year. And I guess you missed news of the brand new citywide recreation and cultural center being built in Cherry Hill, planned to open next summer. It’ll even have a pool. Maybe that’s scary, but we can probably find you a life vest if you promise to stay in the shallow end (note: the cover graphic of this week’s edition gives me plenty of reason to think you’ll have no problem with that last part).
Do these neighborhoods have challenges? Yes, of course. But so does every neighborhood in Baltimore. And, let’s be clear, that these predominantly lower-income, majority black neighborhoods also have these challenges does not make them scary. Particularly not so when the families who live in these neighborhoods are doing unbelievable, tireless work every single day as a community to overcome these challenges. That’s not scary. That’s inspiring.
Oh, you were just kidding? The graphic was just a joke, a cartoon? Well, it wasn’t funny. In fact, for future reference, perpetrating offensive stereotypes, especially wholly inaccurate ones, generally isn’t funny. It’s just wrong. And you should apologize.
I used to think I could count on the City Paper to provide an alternative analysis, a contextualized perspective of city life.
I guess I was wrong.
Maryland state Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-46th District)
Editor’s Note: The cover of our July 16 issue was intended as a light-hearted comment on the way many of us generalize about Baltimore neighborhoods. In particular, the label “Scaryscape” was a reference to the name many locals use to describe the area’s South Carey Street, abbreviated on signs as “S. Carey St.” and pronounced “Scary Street.” No offense was intended.
After reading Jo Brown’s letter, it made me realize it is amazing how some people refuse to accept the truth. The truth is the police department is one of the most corrupted institutions in America and has the history to prove it. As an 81-year-old black man, let me give you some reliable clues. You can begin with the archives of the Afro-American newspaper, the archives of Jet magazine or Ebony magazine, and the black history section of the main library, which is on Cathedral Street. There you will find documented proof of how disgraceful the police department has been. As for good police officers, how come they never tell on the bad ones?
Leo A. Williams