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Don’t Just Denounce Trump’s Tweets — Work for a Better Baltimore, Activists Say

Patrick Semansky/AP

According to the president of the United States, the city of Baltimore is a "disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” a place that “no human being would want to live.” 

President Trump’s latest incendiary Tweetstorm, spanning from Saturday to Monday morning, targeted Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings and his district, which spans most of the city and includes parts of Howard and Baltimore counties.

The tweets put Baltimore in the national spotlight, and residents and elected officials alike condemned them. 

“The president of the United States can do something,” said City Council President Brandon Scott, “and that's what we should talk about:  how he hasn't delivered on his infrastructural promise to American cities.” 

Repulican Gov. Larry Hogan, a frequent critic of Baltimore and its leaders, denounced the president’s “divisiveness” during a WBAL interview this morning.  

“People are just completely fed up with this kind of nonsense,” he said. “Why are we not focused on solving the problems and getting to work instead of who's tweeting what?”

City activists condemned the tweets, too — and are encouraging residents to hold their elected officials accountable. 

Trump lashed out at Baltimore and Cummings, after Cummings, who is also chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, criticized conditions at the southern border.  

But with his tweets, the president inadvertently called attention to the fact that there are walls in Baltimore, too, said Lawrence Brown, a professor at Morgan State University’s School of Community Health and Policy.

“What he’s really trying to do is divert attention away from the border camps,” Brown said. “But we should be in the business of highlighting the commonalities between Baltimore and the border.”

After all, Baltimore still endures a legacy of racist redlining policies that created impoverished black neighborhoods. Baltimore’s murder rate is among the highest in the country, the city has seen five police commissioners in the past five years, and the previous mayor, Catherine Pugh, resigned a few months ago after corruption allegations.

The border and Baltimore are “both places of extreme marginalization, extreme isolation, of extreme separation, where Americans are trying to separate people who have resources from those who do not,” Brown said.

So when elected officials and city residents posted a wave of #WeAreBaltimore social media posts, highlighting one side of Baltimore — the Harbor, Orioles Park, downtown or mostly white neighborhoods — and not the city’s blight, it felt ingenuine to him.

The conditions that Trump mocked are caused by structurally racist policies and maintained by some local politicians, Brown said.

Others said they are sick of the platitudes, like D. Watkins, a lifelong East Baltimore resident, author and editor-at-large at Salon.

“Anything that's gonna create unity against a source of hate is always like a good thing,” he said. “But in all fairness, I don't feel empowered by the social media support. People like myself and other people who live in this city, who love in this city, who come from this city and who’ve had opportunities to leave this city but chose to stay to work and make it better. ... We're too busy doing work to get all riled up over Twitter.”

It’s more productive for residents to respond to Trump’s tweets by working to make Baltimore better, instead of just getting angry, Watkins said.

That’s because no one, especially politicians, has an instant fix, Brown said.

“I think that Trump's comments has gotten a lot of people riled up and wanting to defend the city,” he said. “But I think what really will help defend this city is racial equity and dismantling the apartheid that is so pervasive.”

To achieve that, Brown said, residents can’t let their officials off the hook, no matter how defensive Trump’s tweets make them feel.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.
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