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West Baltimore & the Truth about “The Wire”

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The Short Baltimore Ghetto Story

West Baltimore, and the entire city, has been in the light for the past decades from the hit HBO series “The Wire” to the high crime and poverty rates of the Baltimore ghetto to the well publicized police brutality and political corruption.

Many were first introduced to the troubles of Baltimore through David Simon’s “The Wire” as the viewers were able to witness a fictional or make believe version of what is life like growing up in the streets and urban community of West Baltimore, from policing to the notorious Baltimore drug kingpins.

Short Timeline of Baltimore Kingpins

From the West Side to the East Side, the city of Baltimore had a number of legends that once ran the streets, some of them would later become fictional characters on the famous television show “The Wire”, to go along with some of the once notorious housing projects that were the center of many operations.

Watching “The Wire” gives an example of the streets and the Baltimore kingpins from the 1970s to the early 1990s, but only in a modern-day perspective. The use of heroin during the 1970s transformed into the use crack cocaine in the 1980s and 1990s and once again the users turning back to heroin as of the 2000s. Each era was different, the 1970s with a more chain of command and only a chosen few were involved to the 1990s with the rise of violence, people standing on the corner and many were involved.

Editorial Credit: Nicole Glass Photography / Shutterstock.com

While there were times when Jamaicans and people from New York profited in the streets of Baltimore, the main Baltimore players were with the likes of the old school legends of Peanut King, Little Melvin, followed by the 1980s with T. Stanfield, M. Bates, N. Barksdale (Bodie), then in the 1990s with Rudy, A. Jones, T.L. Canty, and later the likes of G. Smith (Mr Big), the Rice Brothers, and others, all allegedly made millions of dollars during their day.

While every city has kingpins and people who control the trade, every city also has notorious neighborhoods that have gained reputations in the city for the wrong reasons. Housing projects of the old Lexington Terrace and Murphy Homes on the city’s West Side or East Baltimore’s Lafayette Courts and Flag House, all torn down in the 1990s, became legendary communities before their demolishing with plenty of memories, good and bad for the former residents and occupants.

Brief History of West Baltimore

While the city’s black population is well dispersed throughout the city, like South Baltimore’s Cherry Hill and Brooklyn or East Baltimore from Highland Town to Northeast’s Ramblewood, West Baltimore is the heart of the city.

One of the oldest black populations in the country have been in the Baltimore region for as long as the 19th Century, or the 1800s, and has been constantly growing year by year ever since. The city’s African-American population begun as newly arrivals were provided opportunities to work in the local Baltimore shipyards.

Originally the city’s black population made their residence in a small section of East Baltimore. As the black population increased, African Americans began to reside in neighborhoods of West Baltimore, mostly between North Avenue and Edmondson.

Editorial Credit: Florida Chuck / Shutterstock.com

Eventually, Pennsylvania Avenue and Edmondson would become the heart of Baltimore’s black culture as many called neighborhoods like Sandtown, the Bottom, or Upton their home.

During the 1950s and 1960s, integration and the desegregating of Baltimore’s communities gave the opportunity for African Americans to be able to move out of the small segregated sections of East and West Baltimore.

While before the 1970s there were only a handful of black neighborhoods like Cherry Hill or Turner Station, by the beginning of the 1970s the entire city became predominantly African-American, with exception to a few areas.

The Truth About “The Wire”

While the Baltimore ghetto, and the city and surrounding areas as a whole, may have one of the country’s worst drug problems, which was often displayed on The Wire, the HBO series also showed corruption and poor police tactics that took the reign as the city’s biggest problem.

Before the Freddie Gray riots, the locals of Baltimore had legitimate claims of an excessive police presence in the community with times of local law enforcement being out of control.

For instance, people who get home from work and want to socialize outside with people of their neighborhood were not allowed due to the police enforcing the claim of no loitering or standing around in their own community.

To combat crime, the city also placed stricter guidelines towards sentencing convicted felons or rules for citizens on probation and parole, which have made times for the people of Baltimore more difficult. Many of the laws that have been implemented over the years were by politicians or public officials that have either committed crimes or have broken the multiple ethnic rules themselves.

The other side of “The Wire” was the streets as characters Marlo Stanfield and Avon Barksdale, Baltimore drug kingpins, displayed the terror and reign of the drug trade in the streets of the West Baltimore ghetto. In reality, as mentioned earlier in the article, the 1970s was the beginning era of the streets in the many neighborhoods of East Baltimore and West Baltimore, as well parts of South Baltimore.

There are some residents of Baltimore who disagree with “The Wire” and claim most of the show is false and is not an accurate depiction of the streets of Baltimore, mainly due to the claim of no one person can control an entire city.

Conclusion, Today’s West Baltimore

The streets of Baltimore are still some of the roughest in the country with high crime and homicide rates to show proof. But the city of Baltimore is destined for a change, especially with the location of Baltimore having much prosperity and much to offer, from its close location near water to the being just a hour or two away from Washington DC and other major East Coast cities.

In present day Baltimore the process of gentrification as numerous blocks in the city center or inner city have been left to rot and deteriorate seems to be pushing many residents out of East Baltimore and West Baltimore into Baltimore County or certain sections of the city that are a further distance to downtown, like the Northeast or Park Heights.

Since the 1990s, the Baltimore ghetto has a number of old neighborhoods that have been demolished, mainly the old housing projects of Lafayette Court in East Baltimore or the Murphy Homes in West Baltimore, all to go along with numerous of empty dilapidated rowhouses that plague the inner city.

What started in South Baltimore’s Locust Point and areas near downtown, is slowly expanding into other sections of the city as the average home values are rising in areas that are near key city attractions.

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*Note: All information is provided through people of the community, outside sources, and research. Some information might not be current and/or 100% accurate