Private Street at John & Lanvale

Private Street at John & LanvaleThe weather was a trip yesterday, all gray skies and wind in between giant sunbeams and blue skies. The place cannot make up its mind, I swear. I stayed home early to catch up on work and work and more work before heading down the hill to an appointment. The skies looked ok, but the wind was whipping around more than I prefer when I’m making the weather choices. Afterward, I scarfed down a quick lunch and then grabbed the bike to head west and see how people are organizing spaces over there since the murder of Freddie Gray. The winds were really picking up then, businesses pulling in their sidewalk furniture as trash started to swirl toward the trees. My phone’s weather station said it wouldn’t rain until later in the afternoon, so I ignored what I could see with my own eyes and headed west. Thing is, though, getting to West Baltimore from spots east of West Baltimore is kind of tricky. I83 cuts the city in half. MLK cuts in half too, just south and a little to the west of I83. Wyman Park and Hampden cut it off up north, and MICA has its own one ways and private streets, like this one, blocked off by chains to make clear that the sweet little garden isn’t for everybody. [EDIT: Turns out this isn’t a private street but a sweet little park, the chains there to keep cars, not people, out of the park so folks can sit and relax. It’s been a pocket park for over 50 years. And now I’m wondering what it is about chains that lead me always to assume they’re about locking some people out–another reminder that we see what we are trained to see and what we are looking for.] And then the wind picked up even more and I was in a tornado of little white flowertree petals, blown into the middle of the street in a way that suggested I should get off my bike and walk. So I did, and then, like out of an end-of-the-world movie, a metal trash can lid came bouncing toward us, blown by the wind, and hit the back tire, urging me to hurry up and get out of the weather.

So I did, out on Mount Royal, a cup of coffee and a cookie ordered, by the time I sat down the weather better, because it was that kind of day. I ate my cookie and thought about how the infrastructure of the city has cut the west off from the rest and left it to wither, but that there are still so many people who live over there. It’s a “hot spot” in our local drug war, which means it’s filled with cops. Freddie Gray and those or other cops probably saw each other all the time, and I bet Freddie Gray, known to the police after multiple arrests, was probably disturbingly used to the daily hassle that those cops were tasked to visit on him. That’s the policing strategy we’re working with these days. Someone shot and killed a three year old around the corner from my place this past summer, and a cop car sat at the end of my street for months and months, and lots of folks were pleased relieved that something was finally being done about crime in the neighborhood, even if what was done was moving a cop car right there, and the connection between that and decreasing gun violence is hardly an obvious one. Our police commissioner said at the press briefing on Monday that running isn’t a crime, but it is a crime when the cops decide it is, and its a decision that’s made by more than cops. It’s made by all of us who demand more and better policing, who accept the settled nature of racialized poverty, who cannot think beyond the shared trope of the Dangerous Black Person, who still participate in that greatest of our national past times, thinking Black people aren’t quite human. And that’s not a game gotten out of easily given how hard we play it here. I thought about all this, about all the Freddie Grays, and the Freddie Gray before he was killed but when he was, like so many, not a person but a problem. This is the system working as it’s designed to work, as hard as the built environment is working to keep those of us who aren’t living right there from seeing it. What I’m saying, I guess, is that this is a collective problem, not a problem of this man, these cops, this mayor, this commissioner.

Coffee finished, I got on my bike and rode to see a baby. I’ll try to go west again another day.

3 thoughts on “Private Street at John & Lanvale

  1. John St Park has always been a public park during my lifetime – 62 years. Always two chains keeping the vehicles out, not the people. In the early sixties the sign was posted keeping ballplaying outside the chains. For the most part, though, it is as public a space as any in the city. Love your blog. I read it whenever I can. Thanks.

  2. John Street park is, and was, for everyone. The chains are to keep cars out so children can play safely, so wanderers may sit for a quiet moment, to allow for the green space it provides to all-comers. It’s been there since the mid 1950’s, and is now maintained by volunteers from the Bolton Hill Garden Club. It is in no way connected to MICA. It was my childhood haunt with my friends from school 66, and later where I smoked my first joint with classmates from Pimlico Jr. High. I’m bitter that innocent men are murdered. I am not bitter about this magical little park that has always welcomed me, that is now a lifetime and 3000 miles away, but that I loved and still do love.

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