Since I normally only visit Baltimore at Christmas time, I’ve never noticed the glorious crape myrtle trees bursting into bloom on seemingly every street here. The tiny blossoms are said to resemble crepe, hence the name crape–also sometimes spelled “crepe.”
I did a little poking around on the web and learned that the crape myrtle can grow as far north as Boston, but the trees are much more common here in the Southeast. This hardy, drought-resistant tree comes in many colors and sizes, although Barbie Doll pink seems to be the most popular. Like the stone and brick houses in East Baltimore, the crape myrtle seems built to last.
In fact, my mother-in-law, Doris, had a lovely deck built on the side of her house where a crape myrtle tree had been growing. Although the tree had been cut down before the deck was built, the roots keep coming back.
Like the crape myrtle, crime seems to live on nearly every street in Baltimore. But is crime really growing here? While there are many forms of crimes, for the purpose of this discussion, I’m just going to look at homicide.
The evidence is contradictory. Although the number of homicides in Baltimore increased slightly in 2009, to 238 from 234, the homicide rate has actually decreased from the record high of 379 homicides in 1993.
There were 7 murders here in the past week, but the one that captured the most media attention was the Sunday night, July 25 robbery/stabbing of a 23-year-old white male in the supposedly safe Charles Village neighborhood, close to the Johns Hopkins campus and just down the road from my mother-in-law Doris’ house, where I’m staying. Although this particular victim was white, 88 percent of Baltimore’s homicide victims are African-Americans, even though they only make up 63 percent of the city’s population, according to the Baltimore City Paper.
I’ve been visiting Baltimore for the past 21 years. While the number of homicides may not actually be increasing, it strikes me that the residents believe it’s getting worse. Surveillance cameras look down on virtually every street corner. A police car is permanently parked at the gas station near 33rd St. and Greenmount Ave. And my brother-in-law, Michael, used to love exploring the bars in Fells Point and other parts of the city, but now he sticks close to the house at night because he thinks it’s too dangerous to go out.
My mother-in-law blames the situation, in part, on TV shows set in Baltimore, like “Homicide: Life on the Streets,” and “The Wire,” because she thinks they glorify the violence. While I’m no fan of crime shows, I think they reflect reality more than they shape it. And violent crime is devastating communities all over the country, not just Baltimore.
Whatever the cause, it saddens me that the warm-hearted people who live in this city of beautiful parks, row houses, and the world’s best crab cakes cannot hang out on their decks without keeping one eye on the street. Like the crape myrtle, they’re strong, resilient people, so I believe that some day they’ll push up from their roots and reclaim this city from the thugs.