BALTIMORE — Residents of Gilmore Homes say that Baltimore is a city with two sides, the rich and the poor. But on the anniversary of Freddie Gray’s death, it can be described as resignation and activism.
Gilmore Homes is a public housing complex at the intersection of North Mount and Presbury streets. This is the corner where 25-year-old Freddie Gray was arrested by Baltimore police on April 12, 2015. This is the corner where people gathered to protest his death. And exactly one year after Freddie Gray’s death from injuries that occurred while in police custody, this is the corner where Baltimore residents are honoring him. Community activists have taken over a row of abandoned town homes owned by the city, college students are planting flowers as part of a day of service, and Freddie Gray’s friends and family are remembering his life. Local residents interviewed here also said nothing has changed.
On the southwest corner of this intersection, the neighbors of Gilmore Homes gathered in the alleyway that divides the housing development. On the anniversary of Freddie Gray’s death, they held a small cookout while toddlers played on the sidewalk, teenage girls talked on the stoops, and the young men hung out nearby.
They all said nothing has changed since Freddie Gray’s death — nothing. A group of women pointed down the street to a young man sitting in a wheelchair. They said he was thrown to the ground and arrested just a few days ago by the Baltimore police. The young man in the wheelchair didn’t want to talk about his experience, and only repeated what everyone else had already said: Freddie Gray’s death changed nothing.
Residents of the area were reluctant to say anything, but across the street there was another cookout going on, this one is larger, and organized by community activists. They had a lot to say, and they were angry.
“You look around at all this poverty here,” said Tawanda Jones, whose brother Tyrone West was killed during a traffic stop by police in 2013. “[The city] knows these houses [have] been falling over. You go up to the west side and it’s beautiful, it’s gorgeous.”
There are many questions about economic development and why money isn’t being invested in Gilmore Homes and neighborhoods like it.
“We got this sitting here like this,” said one Baltimore man who would only identify himself as “Justin.” He pointed to a row of abandoned homes. “The inner harbor is getting built up, there’s areas of this city right now getting stuff and they got everything already and the people here are getting nothing.”
The frustration is thick. Another man, known as “Boom” railed against the condition of the neighborhood schools.
“I just came from a school that was beat all up. I wouldn’t even send my dog to the school. They had kids in our schools,” he said.
And these local activists have a point: The Baltimore Development Corporation recently announced $2 billion dollars in private development to attract young professionals. The new headquarters of Under Armour, an athletic clothing brand, is planned for the Port Covington neighborhood.
These activists expressed disappointment with the mayor and city council members and disinterest in the presidential election. But they see hope within their own activism. They said the positive changes that are coming to this community are a result of the work of grassroots organizers — not politicians.
Dayvon Love of the Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a local community organization, echoed those thoughts. He stood on the corner grilling hamburgers for the crowd.
He explained there are bigger reasons for why nothing has changed in these neighborhoods.
“There’s an industry around exploiting our suffering, around people making money on programs that aren’t that effective,” said Love. “People come in from outside the community and they think they can fix our problems better than we can.”
Love said national politics are a distraction and the local politicians aren’t much better. He said both Republicans and Democrats are failing the community. Many of the grassroots activists said the same thing, calling out council members and celebrity pastors for not showing up unless TV cameras are there.
But despite these obstacles, these activists continue to work towards bettering their community and they see the difference that they are making.
“The story that gets untold is the story of Tawanda Jones, of me, of Boom, of Abdul Salaam and of other people in the city who are actually changing the city,” said Justin. “We’re actually doing stuff on the ground to change this city.”