A common theme in this week’s commentary on the Baltimore riots is that the city was just waiting for something to put it over the edge.
In this case, that was the death of 25-year-old Freddie Grey, a black man, while in police custody.
But the issues in Baltimore are bigger than Grey, and his death is not the entire reason for the riots.
Michael A. Fletcher wrote in The Washington Post this week that Baltimore’s primary problems aren’t racial — they’re socioeconomic. This sets the city apart from Ferguson, Missouri, where a mostly white police force was patrolling a mostly black neighbourhood (although Ferguson certainly sees the some of the economic inequality issues that are present in Baltimore).
Fletcher notes that a huge source of the tension in Baltimore is the vast gulf between the “haves” and “have-nots” in the city. He wrote that Baltimore is a “combustible mix of poverty, crime, and hopelessness uncomfortably juxtaposed against rich history, friendly people, venerable institutions and pockets of old-money affluence.”
These maps from Reuters bring that point home:
On the income per capita map, you can see the “pockets of old-money affluence” Fletcher references. The rich are concentrated in four tracts in northern Baltimore that also happen to be the areas with the fewest black residents.
Vast parts of the city are made up of tracts in the $US10,001 to $US25,000 bracket — a pretty low range for anyone who is trying to raise a family.
Unsurprisingly, these areas also see some of the highest levels of unemployment in the city.
And even if Baltimore’s biggest problems are economic and social rather than racial, the city certainly hasn’t solved the segregation problem. While many city officials and police officers in Baltimore are black, the residential areas of the city are still highly segregated.
In fact, it’s one of the most segregated cities in the US, according to 2010 Census data. Black residents live mostly in the inner city and western suburbs:
Certain areas of the city are also plagued with drug and violence problems, as shown by these statistics from a recent Justice Policy Institute report that addressed the challenges Grey’s Baltimore neighbourhood faces:
The riots have calmed since Monday, but these issues will still be present after the all the dust settles. And as similar demonstrations crop up in cities across America, it remains unclear how communities will solve the root issues that are provoking the unrest.
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