Just over a year has passed since Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody and the unrest that ensued (my blog about the unrest can be found here). Just over a year has passed since the protests arose, since public transit shut down, since a pharmacy and an under-construction senior center burned, since a State of Emergency was declared and the National Guard arrived, since Baltimore City residents fell asleep to the sounds of helicopters flying overhead to remind them of the curfew, since the Orioles played a fan-less game at Camden Yards. The unrest brought many of Baltimore City’s long-fomenting problems to the forefront of the local and international media. One year later, how have the effects of the unrest impacted Baltimore?
According to various economic indicators (this is an economics blog, after all), Baltimore has largely returned to normal over the past year. The unemployment rate in the City fell from 7.9 percent in March 2015 to 7.1 percent in March 2016, and economists with the Baltimore branch of the Federal Reserve do not expect that the unrest will damage the Baltimore economy in the long term. The CVS that burned at Penn-North has reopened, and the East Baltimore senior center that also burned has been rebuilt. According to the Baltimore Development Corp., approximately 93 percent of more than 400 businesses that were damaged during the unrest have reopened, though some small business owners have noted lagging sales. Hotel occupancy rates have rebounded, and attendance at events such as Light City Baltimore indicate that tourism has regained some momentum. Of course, though economic conditions on the aggregate have improved, individual businesses and workers were negatively impacted by decreased activity stemming from the curfew and safety concerns. And, as other economists have noted, economic opportunity has not increased in many already-struggling areas of the City.
Of course, not all of the effects of the unrest are purely economic. After the unrest, the City’s murder rate skyrocketed: 2015 was the deadliest year per capita on record in Baltimore City, though fewer arrests occurred. The Baltimore City Police Department has seen numerous changes—the new Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has increased emphasis on community policing efforts and foot patrols, and as of May 1, 20 percent of Baltimore police officers have begun wearing body cameras as part of a phased roll-out for the entire force. The six officers implicated in Gray’s death have been criminally charged, and after one mistrial and months of legal back and forth, the trials are set to resume soon.
Changes in the political arena have occurred as well. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s decision not to run for re-election this year led to a crowded and contested Democratic primary led by State Senator Catherine Pugh and Former Mayor Sheila Dixon. A long shot, Black Lives Matter (BLM) activist DeRay Mckesson’s candidacy received national attention, as his involvement with BLM carried significance. If past precedent holds, the winner of the Democratic mayoral primary will become Baltimore’s next mayor, and she will face a unique set of challenges as the City moves forward.
Even with all of the change that has occurred over the past year, there is still a lot of work to be done. While focus on distressed neighborhoods has increased, there are still significant challenges with respect to violence and the drug trade, food deserts, vacant housing, crumbling or dangerous infrastructure, etc., that need to be addressed. A $1.3 million grant from T. Rowe Price will be utilized to address some needs, though more than just money will be needed to rectify the decades of disparity that exist in the City. Outreach, especially for youth, has also increased—for example, through avenues such as the new Freddie Gray Empowerment Center located in Bolton Hill, which provides City youth with enrichment activities and a safe place to go during the day and in the evenings.
One year later, some things have changed in Baltimore, yet many problems remain. Gatherings marking the anniversaries of Gray’s arrest, death, and the unrest that followed were peaceful and reflective. As the healing process continues, the spirit of Charm City to band together and continue to move forward has the potential to rebuild a better Baltimore.