Go to Baltimore!


Go to Cuba! Wait a minute: Go to Baltimore!

Go to Baltimore! by Pedro Abramovay

About 40 minutes by train from the US capital and just over two hours from New York is the city of Baltimore, capital of the state of Maryland.

I just left there after a very intense day visiting Open Society Foundation projects in the city.

Early in the morning I heard the testimony of a girl named Jabria. Jabria, when she was 16, was arguing with her grandmother. Grandmother had a heart attack during the argument. Jabria was arrested, in an adult establishment, for murder. After about a year of experiencing all kinds of violence in prison, Jabria could be entitled to parole. The request was denied by the judge because Jabria had had more than 30 suspensions from the school. The suspensions were caused by Jabria arriving at school in a dirty uniform, as her grandmother would not let her wash her uniform when they argued.

Jabria now leads an initiative against the arrest of teenagers in the United States and knows that stories like this are the norm in her community.

Then I went to a school. A school that, like all others in Baltimore’s poor neighborhoods, experienced high levels of violence, student suspensions and, not surprisingly, poor academic results.

It is worth mentioning that, until recently, Baltimore distributed its educational resources in the same perverse way that these resources are distributed in most of the United States. The school receives taxes according to the IPTU collection in the neighborhood where it is located. Thus, schools in wealthy neighborhoods receive an enormous amount of public resources. In poor neighborhoods, they live in misery. Fortunately, after a court battle, it was possible to change that in Baltimore.

I was very impressed upon entering the school. 50 years after the movements against racial segregation in the US, all, ALL, students in the school are black. The restorative justice work done at the school I went to was amazing. Fights have fallen, suspensions are practically over, and academic levels have improved a lot. But that’s still a drop in the ocean in a neighborhood where 1/3 of students were suspended last year.

After school I went to a church to see the social work they did. A lady, a specialist in food security, explained to me that one of the biggest problems in the city, which accounts for 25% of its inhabitants below the poverty line, was the food deserts (something like food deserts). Areas of the city where residents do not have access to food. There is no supermarket or store that sells food within a radius of more than 8 kilometers. The public transport system is precarious. So people have to walk great distances to get access to food. Often they don’t. And they end up buying Doritos and candy at the corner store to feed their families, spending far more than they would if they bought decent food. Or simply starve.

It is worth remembering that this is a city in which voter turnout reaches 17% of the voting-age population. Voting, as in all the US, is optional.

The homicide rate in Baltimore is extremely high (55 per 100,000 population), equivalent to the rate in cities in the lowlands of Rio de Janeiro. More than double the rate in Rio de Janeiro.

In April, police killed a young man, black, named Freddie Gray. Young black people torched the city in protest.

This panorama is fundamental for us to understand that North American capitalism cannot be seen as a model to be replicated. Baltimore is not an isolated case in the US, it is not an accident. Baltimore is the product of an unequal, racist, violent, unjust and undemocratic society.

These days, whenever someone makes a comment in defense of more social justice, one quickly hears the answer: Go to Cuba! I do not consider Cuba a model to be followed by Brazil. But one day in Baltimore he reinforced the idea that the model of society based on a state that punishes teenagers, that strengthens private capital in deciding how to allocate public resources, that ignores racial inequalities, that thinks that optional voting saves politics , this model of society defended by so many angry people on the internet and inspired by the USA. This model does not take us into the magical world of Disneyworld. This model takes us to Baltimore.

And I will not respond to the responder# ‎vaipraCuba! that I listen to with a # ‎vaipraBaltimore. The Baltimore I met today I don’t wish for anyone.

It may be difficult to know what we want for Brazil. But certainly starting the debate knowing that we don’t want to be either Cuba or Baltimore would be a good start.
Pedro Abramovay is Director of the Open Society Foundations for Latin America and writes for Quebrando o Tabu every two weeks.

Written by Feitosa-Santana

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