August 1, 2019 / 11:49 AM / 23 days ago

Baltimore pushes back against Trump while acknowledging problems

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - After U.S. President Donald Trump described Maryland’s largest city as “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and a “very dangerous & filthy place” last weekend, Baltimore resident Blondina Bean had mixed feelings about his tweets.

The girlfriend and daughter, 9, of Antonio Addison, 22, who was shot and killed sitting on his grandmother's front steps, cry as they attend the three-year anniversary of his death, in the Sandtown neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., May 25, 2019. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

Bean, whose 19-year-old son George Phillips was killed in a robbery attempt last year in Baltimore, said she was torn because she felt Trump was right about the majority-black city’s high crime rate but wrong to use what she called racist language.

“I agree with what he said, unfortunately. We should totally be in a state of emergency. I don’t agree with his delivery. I look at him and think, ‘Wow, do I really want this message from him?’ Because his character has shown who he is,” Bean said.

Baltimore, a city of about 625,000 people known for its scenic harbour and historic neighbourhoods in addition to its urban woes, is located roughly 40 miles (65 km) north of Washington.

While many in Baltimore have blasted Trump’s language - he also tweeted that “No human being would want to live there” - some black residents have acknowledged not only the city’s crime problems but that its political leaders have failed to take enough action.

It is not the first time in recent years that Baltimore has found itself in an uncomfortable national spotlight.

Two mayors have stepped down with corruption allegations swirling around their administrations. In 2015, the death of a black man named Freddie Gray while in police custody sparked days of sometimes violent protests.

For many in Baltimore, Trump’s remarks added to the damage those episodes had caused to the city’s image. That has both unsettled and animated community activists dedicated to improving life in the city.

Francina Townes, an 18-year-old entrepreneur who had a rough upbringing in West Baltimore, took exception to Trump’s remarks.

Townes also has no illusions about Baltimore’s long and frustrating struggle against violence, drugs and poverty. But she resented the tone of the Republican president’s Twitter remarks, saying his broadsides - directed at Elijah Cummings, an African-American Democrat who long has represented the city in the U.S. Congress - have united the city’s people.

“One thing about Baltimore: We can talk about ourselves,” Townes said. “But if somebody from outside comes in and tries to do something, we stick together.”

Cummings, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform, has led investigations into Trump and his administration and has criticized the president’s hard-line immigration policies.

Townes said she grew up seeing other young people get pregnant or go to jail, and was determined to find an alternative. Two years ago, she launched her own home business applying high-end false eyelashes and steadily built a loyal clientele. She now rents space in a salon and aspires to own her own shop some day.

Bean, since her son’s death, has created a non-profit organization aimed at diverting young people at risk into sports, therapy or job-interview training. Baltimore has other projects that aim to help young black men overcome obstacles in a troubled city where some end up on a path of drugs and violence. Some programs have been around for years.

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Edwin Avent co-founded Black Professional Men (BPM) Inc in 1991 to lift up African-American men, offering lessons in topics from financial literacy to relationships. He is also board chairman of the Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys, a public charter school.

BPM has mentored 3,000 boys and awarded 225 college scholarships, using education and positive reinforcement to keep youths away from gangs, drugs and guns.

“What we’re doing is building black boys into the next generation of doctors, lawyers, scientists and leaders,” Avent said. “Maybe even the next Barack Obama.”

Reporting by Stephanie Keith; Additional reporting by Donna Owens and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Will Dunham

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