A coalition of community, faith, and labor groups in Baltimore has proposed an economic recovery plan that the coalition says is designed “to heal Baltimore in wake of riots and protest triggered by the death of Freddy Gray.”
At a media conference held on May 4, speakers from One Baltimore United said that Baltimore’s economic recovery from years of decline has bypassed many of the city’s residence, who still live in or near poverty.
They said that the riots following Gray’s death were the result of built up rage stemming from the lack of good paying jobs, decent housing, and the lack of respect for black lives.
Gray, a young black man, died under suspicious circumstances while in police custody, and the police would not explain how he died.
“Martin Luther King said a riot ‘is the language of the unheard’. He said America had failed to hear the economic plight of black America,” said Ty Hullinger, president of Interfaith Workers Justice of Maryland, one of the groups belonging to One Baltimore United. “If we want to see change, we need city and state leaders to make a real commitment to creating more good jobs and working with community partners to make change that benefits us all.”
One Baltimore United used the media conference to put forward a four point plan for addressing the problems that caused the riot.
- Justice for Freddy Gray, Anthony Anderson, and all victims of police brutality
- Development projects that receive public subsidies and tax breaks should be required to pay a living wage with benefits and hire locally
- Affordable housing should become a city priority and residents should be involved in its planning
- Social services and public education should be fully funded
At one time, Baltimore was a thriving manufacturing and shipping center. Like other cities in the US, its black residents faced discrimination because of racism, but at least there were decent paying union jobs available that helped many escape poverty.
But those jobs melted away as corporations in search of lower labor costs and higher profits moved to places where labor was cheaper.
When those good paying jobs dried up, Baltimore went into decline.
In an attempt to reverse the decline city leaders, began offering tax breaks and subsidies to lure business back to Baltimore.
And it worked–at least, for some.
Baltimore is no longer a poor city. Last year, it added $1.3 billion in property wealth as the result of development projects.
However, the benefits of the city’s resurgence did not trickle down.
More than 24 percent of the city’s residents continue to live below the federal poverty line.
The city’s unemployment rate is 8.8 percent, well above the national rate of 5.5 percent.
For black youth ages 20 to 24, the unemployment rate is a staggering 37 percent.
The good paying jobs available in old Baltimore have failed to return to the new Baltimore, but the new development strategy has been a boon to corporations like the owners of the Marriott hotels.
According to the Baltimore Sun, the city of Baltimore agreed to a deal that allows the owners of the luxury Marriott East Harbor Waterfront hotel to pay property taxes of $1 a year for the next 25 years.
In another deal, the owners of the luxury Zenith apartments received a tax abatement for 15 years that allows them to pay just 15 percent of the property taxes that they would owe without the abatement.
These deals have had a perverse impact on the funding of local schools.
The increased property wealth should have resulted in more funding for public schools; instead, it may result in a cut in state funding for education.
The state funding formula for local school districts is based on property wealth. School districts with a lot of property wealth receive less state funding, presumably because the higher property wealth should translate into more local revenue for education.
Because of Baltimore’s increased property wealth, the state has proposed reducing its funding for Baltimore schools by $35 million.
The city, however, doesn’t have the money to offset impending state cuts because it has been so generous with tax cuts and other subsidies for corporations.
For One Baltimore United, which describes itself as, “a coalition of community, faith and labor partners standing together (to)demand that city leadership put Baltimore families first,” the city’s current development plan can’t possibly create the kind of shared wealth that could heal Baltimore’s wounds.
“We must resolve this crisis with reconciliation, with a new and greater commitment to secure economic justice for all of Baltimore,” said Michael Coleman, a leader of United Workers, another member of One Baltimore United. “There will be reaction and backlash when what is needed is for all of us to take a step towards each other and come to terms with the crisis of inequality that has brought our city to this moment.”