Baltimore City Jail Being Demolished at Fallsway & Eager

View down the street at the Baltimore City Jail being demolished. In the foreground on the sidewalk is a red star with a name of a victim of police violence.

Wednesday’s ride took me down the hill in the sunshine for a quick haircut at the barber. I know many don’t feel like that’s a safe activity, but I do, so I wore my mask, joined B. and one other barber and client inside, and got the back and sides cleaned up. It was so good to be out of my house and neighborhood for even just the 20 minutes I spent inside there.

B. has two kids, and we talked about how hard remote learning has been. I know so many people are working so hard to make this work as best as it can, but I also cannot believe what we’re expecting parents to do, especially since most parents have to work, too. I have no idea what we should do, what we should do better, but this is all such a catastrophe. Public schools need to open, and public schools can’t just open, but we need them to open. And we need them resourced to do the work we expect them to do in regular and COVID times.

After getting all freshly shorn, I hopped on my bike and tooled around downtown, to see if you can still tell we’re in a pandemic before heading east and north up Fallsway to home. I stopped at Eager Street to snap this picture of the old Baltimore City Jail, currently being demolished. The west wall has been stripped away, and I couldn’t tell just by looking what kinds of horrors had happened in those old walls, but I’m sure they are incalcuable.

I looked around, noticed the red stars painted on the sidewalk going east on Eager, each containing the name of a victim of police violence–and these are only the names we know and from the recent past. People have been held in cages in these buildings since the 1860s. That’s a lot of terror. You don’t have to be murdered by cops for it to “count” as violence. That we continue to cage so many people when we know it does not keep anybody safe–and keeps whole swaths of communities in a permanent state of unsafety–is a national shame. Tear down that wall, and all of them, I thought.

But something will be built in its place, another set of cages that might be nicer, more services offered within them, but a cage is a cage, just like a cop is a cop. The problem is the structure, the system, not how good some of the apples are or how historic some of the buildings. Central Booking on the corner sure isn’t going anywhere, even if the castle is getting knocked down.

And then I got back on my bike and pedaled home in the crispy sunshine, blue skies. That I am out here and they are in there has everything to do with what I used to call luck but now understand as structural supports for people who look like me. I’m grateful that the bike lane is right next to our city’s prison complexes so that I cannot forget that my outside is conditioned by the “inside” that holds so many of my neighbors. I remind myself, don’t stop seeing this, don’t stop knowing that behind those walls with no windows are human beings, paying the heavy price for our individualizing of social disorder. And then I got home, redistributed some wealth, and got back to preparing to teach what the president says I can’t teach anymore.

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