The evening after I had to board up the windows of my printing company on North Charles Street in downtown Baltimore City because of the potential for some protesters to chuck bricks through my twelve plate glass windows, I watched Martin Scorsese’s seminal movie, Raging Bull. While most viewers in its 40-year history apparently found the picture plaudit-worthy, I was in the minority, not enjoying it at all (other than seeing DeNiro pack on 65 pounds!). It was disturbing and sad and infuriating. Why didn’t LaMotta’s two put-upon wives leave him, or leave him earlier, once they discovered he was an abusing and suspicious sociopath?
As I was brushing my teeth, viewing myself in the mirror, it hit me with a mix of fascination and horror that I also was in an unhealthy relationship of sorts, with no immediate intentions of leaving. Why in the world do I keep my business in Baltimore City?
Like the wives in Raging Bull, I suppose I just continue hoping for better. I know what the city is capable of, it has so much promise, so much to potentially offer. Just like when LaMotta was courting young Vickie, being sweet and solicitous of her, I had a honeymoon period in Baltimore City, at least when compared to the situation today. Charles Street was like Main Street, USA. We merchants knew one another and looked out for one another. We had actual “beat cops” who knew our names, our family, and were invited to our celebratory events. These police officers made sure we felt safe and secure while we were building our businesses.
Somewhere along the way, Jake LaMotta started showing his “true colors” by badgering and beating his wives. And sometime in the past 40 years my company has been on Charles Street, Baltimore City stopped caring for me and my business. They made it hard for me to put up signage on my shop. Their property tax rates are almost double what they are in surrounding counties for arguably less efficient services. They took away our beat cops. They stopped trying to help us when we called about issues with homelessness, trash, vandalism, and even minor assaults and muggings. They let the violent crime and murder rate spiral out of control, while not protecting their tax base. They inflicted on us benign neglect. The honeymoon was certainly over.
So why don’t I leave the city? Am I suffering from Stockholm Syndrome? Do I feel affection for a city that is holding me and my business hostage? Or am I delusional, waiting month after month, decade upon decade, for the city leadership to wake up to its true grass roots providers, the businesses who employ its citizens?
While it is true that Baltimore does not have enough police officers, and while most of the demonstrations here were thankfully nonviolent this go-round, our city has ultimately let each of us down. The Gun Trace Task Force is a prime example of the illness in our city, the policing needs to be radically changed to service the needs of its constituents. I cannot explain how disheartening and disappointing it is for me, knowing that I can’t count on the city to do the very minimum, by protecting my business in times of unrest.
Am I naïve, like Vickie LaMotta, for thinking and hoping things will get better, that we could get back to our promising beginning? Or am I a fool for staying?