Tuesday was unusually warm, a balmy 41 degrees, so I knocked off work a bit early to take a bike ride in the sunshine they said we wouldn’t get. I headed west this time, and then south, heading toward Stricker Street to pay my respects to the three firefighters who died when the house at 205 Stricker Street collapsed on them. A fourth firefighter was injured, though he appears to be recovering. Pictures of these firefighters are all over the news, and they are devastating. So young, such smiles, so many people who loved them, killed doing a job that is entirely about helping protect others. Flags at half mast, a long line of fellow firefighters accompanying them from shock trauma to the medical examiner’s office, so many tributes pouring in from all over. It is just so sad.
I have spent enough time riding around Stricker Street to know that if I headed south and west I’d run into it, and then I would just ride it south. Because the freeway cuts the city in two, on a bike you have to go south, then north, then south again, a big u-turn around the JFX. It is not easy to get to the west side, or for the west side to get east. It reminds me of Greenmount Avenue, where you can’t cross from the east to the west, from Waverly to Guilford, the fanciest neighborhood in town, from 33rd to 39th, unless you are on foot. I run up that way all the time, up Barclay to Newland to Juniper, running to Greenmount and back again. I map my runs, and they are like teeth, always just touching Greenmount, turning again. I do that to get a break from running straight uphill, but it is a regular reminder of how infrastructure blocks the way, how it divides, how it etches arguments about who has a right to the city into the landscape.
So I went south, west on Oliver, north on Mount Royal, west on Lafayette, and then I was rolling down the hill, watching the streets make those changes from Bolton Hill through Upton, Harlem Park to Franklin Square. I started counting the houses held up by trusses, the first just north on Argyle Street, and then another, another, another. So many houses at risk of collapse, and these are the ones someone’s doing something about. I remember Thomas Lemmon was killed, sitting outside in his prized Cadillac, probably just listening to music.
I headed south on Carrollton and crossed over the Highway to Nowhere, another infrastructure project that permanently divided and scarred the city. Organized abandonment. I stop, take a picture of this mural on the Eaddy home. Sonia Eaddy has been organizing to save her home for decades, and the Sarah Ann Street homes around the corner. Others joined her and have worked so hard. Please don’t tear down this house that people live in, love, have lovingly repaired. Please don’t tear down the row of houses on the other side of it, historic homes, but a history that never seems to matter the way history matters on the east side of Greenmount. Black neighborhoods matter, as Lawrence Brown always says, and here is a chance to say yes, resoundingly, they do. Or do they only matter when it won’t cost a developer something?
I keep riding, south, west, I hit Stricker Street, ride south. I was a juror on a murder trial once, and the murder took place on Stricker Street. The trial was devastating, and throughout it I couldn’t stop thinking about how one person was murdered, but so many people in the story of what happened had seemingly already been consigned to death. If you are born in a neighborhood like this one in Baltimore, your life expectancy is twenty years shorter than that of people born in rich neighborhoods. Twenty years.
I never got close to 205 S. Stricker Street. It is a crime scene, surrounded by more cops and fire trucks than I’ve seen in a minute. I paused, a moment of silence. So much loss.
And then I was back on my bike, headed north, counting and counting, so many houses that look like they could be the next to go. Save the Eaddy house, save the Sarah Ann Street homes, mourn the lost firefighters, the man murdered on Stricker Street, and it must be only a beginning. As Ruthie Gilmore says, “Where life is precious, life is precious.” If life is precious, then we must build a world where life is treated that way, where the violence of the abandonment you can feel on these streets is no longer acceptable, where the response to the murder I was on a jury for isn’t to put the shooter in a cage and then walk away.
As I pedaled north I thought about how sad the death of these firefighters made me. Why these three deaths? 31 people have been shot and killed in Baltimore in January alone, every death just as terrible, just as mourned. And thousands upon thousands every day die from COVID. It is pretty obvious why some lives matter and some don’t, but I wonder how to make them all matter, how to make it so that life is precious, so that life can be precious.