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Letter from Baltimore—A Mother’s Report from the Heart of the City

AP/Matt Rourke

Zoe Romanowsky - published on 04/29/15

An Aleteia editor's perspective from her home in downtown Baltimore

It’s a beautiful spring morning in downtown Baltimore and I’m watching my daughters ride their scooters up and down the sidewalk. Ten hours ago I wasn’t sure if my family would still be here. It’s hard to know how to make a decision to evacuate; I’ve never lived in the middle of civil unrest before. 

After almost two weeks of peaceful protests following the death of Freddie Gray—a 25 year-old man who suffered spinal injuries at the hands of Baltimore police and then died—protests turned into riots Monday afternoon and went long into the night. Businesses were looted and burned, fires were set to buildings, police officers were attacked, and reporters were injured. 

The turning point came on Saturday when peaceful protests downtown began to shift. Groups of angry men and youth jumped on cars, stopped traffic, and attacked police and bystanders. A friend of mine, who took a wrong turn coming into the city for a girls’ night out, ended up smack in the middle of it, stuck for 90 minutes, with kids in the car terrified and crying. But by Sunday, all was peaceful and quiet and the worst seemed to be over. 

I didn’t know things were escalating out of control on Monday until a friend from South Carolina texted me to ask if I was okay. Since we don’t have a television, she caught me up on what was going on just a couple of miles from our home. We began streaming the local news through our computer, and it looked bad. I learned that a beloved third generation Italian deli that I frequent was smashed and looted. After sundown, a huge senior center under construction was on fire, as well as other buildings in different parts of the city. Two CVSs were burning; cars were on fire; the place looked like a war zone.

This is a city with a lot of problems, no doubt about it: Corruption, racial tensions, joblessness, poverty, drugs, crime, homelessness. It’s also a fantastic, quirky, historic port city with a rich history, a lot of culture and diversity, and many, many hard-working, faith-filled people. As a white mother of two brown-skinned daughters, I have always felt welcomed and supported in this city. Baltimore may be a tinder box in places, but it has a lot of heart. It also has great potential and many people have dedicated their lives to help achieve that.

Faith leaders are one such group. Even the secular media — particularly the local media — have been praising the efforts of local pastors and religious leaders from every denomination and religion. They’ve worked tirelessly, and with much success. 

Even warring gangs, the Crips and the Bloods, came together on television to urge rioters to stop destroying the city. Freddie Gray’s family, on the same day they buried their son and brother, made a plea for non-violence. Every reasonable person in this city knows violence and destruction is no way to bring justice or tackle issues like police brutality and racial inequality. 

There are and will be many heroes in Baltimore. As I write this, things are calmer. Despite what some are characterizing as a slow response by authorities, I’ve been impressed by how well people have come together to bring things under control. It’s still tenuous and uncertain, though. When I drove to the grocery store earlier today, the National Guard lined the streets with their automatic weapons and shields. Police are guarding stores and businesses. The Baltimore Orioles will play Chicago in an empty stadium tomorrow just a half mile from our house. And ordinary citizens like us will continue to pray that our city will be healed and restored. 

Zoe Romanowsky is Aleteia’s Lifestyle Editor and Video Content Producer. She lives in downtown Baltimore with her husband and twin daughters. 

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