Beware: Depending on Who You Are, Reporting Conditions in Baltimore Could Be Racist.

In criticizing Elijah Cummings, US Representative for Maryland’s gerrymandered 7th congressional district, which includes just over half of Baltimore City (most of the majority-black precincts of Baltimore County), for the way the congressman has handled oversight of federal government activities at the US southern border (Cummings is the chairman of the House Oversight Committee), Donald Trump tweeted that residents of the 7th district are worse off there than the migrants housed in immigrant detention facilities.

US Representative Elijah Cummings

Trump’s tweet was inspired by a Fox News program in which Kimberly Klacik, a Republican strategist, accused Cummings of hypocrisy over his concern for the situation at the border in light of the conditions of his own district. Klacik had just returned from from Baltimore, describing it as “the most dangerous district in America.”

Kimberly Klacik, GOP strategist

She had not intended to document Baltimore’s conditions. Her intent had been to interview residents to determine whether they were, as Cummings had suggested, scared of the President.

Klacik didn’t find residents scared of Trump. Instead, she found residents enraged over the conditions of their neighborhoods. “I go in and start talking to people,” she explained to the panel on Fox & Friends, “[and] I realized just what the living conditions are, for not just the residents but even the children and what they’ve been playing around.” She reported, “There’s abandoned row homes filled with trash, homeless addicts, empty needles that they have used, and it’s really right next door. So, it’s attracting rodents, cockroaches, you name it.” She has shared videos of her experience.

These characterizations, bringing to mind the popular American crime drama television series The Wire (2002-2008), its realism reflecting the work of former Baltimore police reporter David Simon, found their way into the language of Trump’s tweets, language the establishment media and members of the Democratic Party characterized as yet another instantiation of Trump’s racism.

The tweets are among the many Trump has shared taking issue with the manner in which Cummings and other Democrats have portrayed his presidency. During a hearing on conditions at the border, Cummings attacked acting Homeland Security chief Kevin McAleenan, saying, in reference to the border facilities, “None of us would have our children in that position. They are human beings.” Yet, as Klacik showed, the children in Cummings’ district live in extreme deprivation, routinely exposed to crime and drugs.

Cummings’ hypocrisy is noteworthy given the intensity of Democratic Party criticism of border control policy. It is expected that a president would defend his administration’s work by making something of the failure of his opponents to apply the same standards to the results of their urban policies.

What is more, Cummings and his Democratic peers claim the mantle of civil rights leaders. How is it that half a century after the great civil rights victories of the 1960s, with Democrats dominating central city politics, African Americans still struggle in impoverished racially-segregated inner city zones? Cummings has been in office since 1996.

So, really, Trump was repeating what Klacik had said on Fox & Friends. And Klacik was confirming what others have found.

In 2017, the BBC reported that 25 percent of residents of the city of Baltimore live in poverty. “If you want to know what poverty in America looks like, well this is it,” says BBC reporter Ian Pannell.

In 2015, The Washington Post reported that the average life expectancy in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods is nearly 20 years below the national average.

What about the claim that Baltimore is rat invested? In that BBC report, one of the residents tells Pannell that, in Baltimore, “despair is a way of living.” The city is “rat infested, regardless of what you do as a person living there, roaches, mice, an epidemic of bed bugs.” Fox News reports that, according to Orkin Pest Control, the ten most rat-infested cities are run by Democrats and Baltimore ranks sixth on the list (“Trump is Right”).

For many progressives, Fox News is racist. But The Washington Post? The BBC?

Is Klacik right about Cummings’ district being “the most dangerous district in America”? Yes. FBI statistics for 2017 placed Baltimore’s homicide rate well above that of any other large American metropolis, deadlier than Chicago and Detroit.

Violent crime is rampant in Baltimore. In video footage released by Baltimore City Police, youth are shown viciously attacking a 59-year-old man, who is Muslim, knocking off his religious headwear and pushing him to the ground several times before stomping him in the face until he is unconscious, his head repeatedly bouncing off the pavement. One of the youth then robs him. Had white youth attacked a Muslim man in this manner it would been obsessively covered by the establishment media. This level of violence is common in Baltimore.

This video, released by the Baltimore City police, is disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.

The establishment media and partisan mischaracterization of Trump’s criticism of the conditions of blacks families living in Baltimore is a paradigm of the double standard.

On May 5, 2016, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders tweeted, “Residents of Baltimore’s poorest boroughs have lifespans shorter than people living under dictatorship in North Korea. That is a disgrace.”

North Korea is widely recognized as governed by a brutal regime that allegedly starves its citizens. Sanders is saying that the leadership of Baltimore is akin to Kim Jong Un and his regime. Of course, this is not a racist claim, but Democrats would have characterized the tweet as such if Trump had tweeted it.

Sanders is correct. According The Washington Post story I shared above, “Fourteen Baltimore neighborhoods have lower life expectancies than North Korea. Eight are doing worse than Syria.”

Sanders called Baltimore’s situation “a disgrace.” Presumably Sanders believes somebody is responsible for this disgrace. Who? Trump identified at least one of the responsible parties. He was smeared as a racist.

I want to reassure my readers that my objection to the way in which Trump’s tweets are mischaracterized (I wrote about about another instance of false accusation here: “Prejudice and Discrimination”) is not motivated by political support for this president. I am no fan of Trump’s presidency. Sadly, I have to provide this disclaimer because objectivity is so scarce these days.

Rather, my objection is motivated by opposition to the manner in which the establishment media and the Democratic Party wield the charge of racism to mislead the public about America and its people, as well as the Party’s record. (Frankly, in light of the Bob Mueller fiasco, there should be little doubt anymore about the Democrats’ lack of integrity.)

Democrats use the smear of racism to delegitimize their opponents, avoiding facts and argument while distracting the public from the failure of the Party to secure safe and healthy environments for their constituents. In smearing the president in this way, these forces provide cover for politicians who seem unwilling to perform the basic governmental tasks of establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for public safety, promoting the general welfare, and securing liberty in the communities they represent.

But the problem goes beyond the Democrats’ misuse of the term to advance partisan politics. If everything is racist, then, in some sense, nothing is, since the term no longer differentiates anything. Put another way, the routine application of the term to things that are not racist renders it effectively meaningless as a useful descriptor, exposing it as an obvious smear that can be dismissed out of hand.

Democrats trivialize racism by making its use so absurd and arbitrary that it becomes difficult for some to know when it’s actually present. Racism is a serious matter and Democrats shouldn’t numb the public to the term through demagoguery.

Update 7.30.2019: The main claim that Trump’s criticism of Baltimore was racist depends on the word “infested.” This word is attached to a lot of phrases—“crime infected,” “drug invested,” “rodent invested”—that describe unacceptable neighborhood conditions. There is nothing racist about these utterances. But this has not stopped CNN from continuing to characterize Trump’s criticism as matter-of-fact racism. Perhaps a video of Elijah Cummings himself describing his community as “drug invested” and residents as “walking around like zombies.”

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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