Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted in Citizen Journalism (James O'Keefe and Project Veritas) | 4 comments

Baltimore, My Baltimore

What happened to Baltimore?

Here are some numbers to try to wrap your brain around:

The population of Baltimore City was 900K in 1970.

In 2010? 645K.

That’s a loss of more than a quarter of the population over the past forty years.

Over that same period, Baltimore City went from being responsible for nearly one out of three jobs in the state to providing just over 10% jobs statewide.

That’s an urban center that is hemorrhaging people and employment opportunities.

And the relative buying power of those who’ve stayed?

Here’s a graph that shows what happened to the salaries of Baltimore City residents relative to residents of the surrounding suburbs and to Marylanders in general:

In 1970, residents of Baltimore City were at near parity with all the other citizens of the state in terms of per capita income; forty years later, median per capita earnings by city residents had fallen to 75% of the state average. In other words, what jobs remained in the city paid 25% less than the jobs elsewhere in the state.


There are many forces at work here. A sketch can point to the complexity.

Martin Luther King is assassinated at 6:01PM on April 4th, 1968.

A little more than 48 hours later, Maryland’s Governor Spiro Agnew declares a state of emergency in Baltimore. Having called the National Guard up for duty the previous day, Agnew deploys them in the city in an attempt to quell disturbances of the kind that were already well underway in Washington, D.C.

When the National Guard proves to be unequal to the challenge, Agnew requests support from the federal government and President Johnson orders 1,900 Army soldiers into the city on the evening of April 7th. Rioting, looting, sniper fire continue for another four days. All told, more than 1,000 businesses were looted and/or destroyed; some 5,500 people were arrested; more than 700 people were injured; six died in the unrest.

Undated Picture of Armed Soldiers Patrolling the Streets of Baltimore, April 7th-11th, 1968

In “A Report of the Baltimore Civil Disturbance of April, 1968,” the members of the Maryland Crime Investigating Commission, having reviewed the available data, conclude:

“that the riot must be attributed to two elements–‘white racism’ and economic oppression of the Negro. It is impossible to give specific weights to each, but together they gave clear cause for many of the ghetto residents to riot” (22).

Click image to enlarge

As this map shows, the overwhelming majority of the acts of rioting and property destruction occurred in neighborhoods where white residents made up 20% of the population or less. Nevertheless, despite the level of segregation documented by this map, the riots accelerated “white flight” from Baltimore City to the surrounding counties and on out of the state.


What happened after the riots?

In 1960, the ratio of white to black citizens statewide was 5:1.
In 1980, that ratio had changed to 3:1.
In 2010, the ratio of white to black citizens statewide? 2:1.

From 1970-1980, Baltimore City lost 120,000 residents.
From 1980-1990, she lost another 50,000 residents, with black residents outnumbering whites, 1.5:1.
From 1990-2000, the city shed another 80,000 residents and the ratio of black residents to white increased to 2:1.
From 2000-2010, 30,000 more residents left and whites now make up less than one-third of the city’s total population.

Mouse over Baltimore City to view population change.


To reach the now closed office of the Association of Community Organizers from Reform Now (ACORN) in Baltimore City , you can drive through any number of neighborhoods blighted and abandoned where residents struggle to make the monthly rent. They’re hard to miss, actually.

Why are there swaths of Baltimore that look like this?

Use your mouse to explore Gilmor Street.

Bruce Hamilton and Peter Mills offer this explanation:

A population decline of the magnitude suffered by Baltimore leaves the city with substantially more houses than households, and therefore a need to retire some houses from the stock. Frequently the cheapest way to retire houses is to abandon them. Demolition, for example, is generally not an economically viable option. Demolition of row houses generally costs between $500,000 and $900,000 per acre, and many acres in Baltimore are not worth this much.


From a bird’s eye view, the now closed ACORN office sits midway between the former home of the Baltimore Orioles, Memorial Stadium, and the Orioles’ home since 1991, Camden Yards.

Click image to enlarge

When the Orioles decamped from the center of the city in 1991, they took with them all of the traffic that had to find parking near the stadium eighty times a year on game days: all those cars full of people who would buy food from local vendors, who would stay to drink in neighborhood bars, who would spend money in nearby convenience stores. All those cars that couldn’t find a space at the stadium lot and would end up packed like sardines on yards in the neighborhood which were converted to revenue generating parking lots on game days. When the Orioles moved downtown, they took with them a set of interweaving micro-economies that put cash directly into the hands of those who lived and who ran small businesses in the center of the city.

According to Hamilton and Mills, Memorial Stadium had 2800 parking spaces; an additional 2200 official parking spaces were there to be found in the surrounding neighborhoods. What this meant in practice, according to an Orioles’ official, was that anytime attendance topped 30,000, some fans would still be looking for parking into the third inning (12). What Hamilton and Mills don’t stress, however, is that those exasperated fans were more likely, the later it got, to pay $20 to park on someone’s lawn: what to one person seems like price-gouging is to another person a way of generating off-the-books income, money that locals could then, in turn, spend locally.

Memorial Stadium in its heyday and during its demolition in 2001, a decade after the Orioles moved out.

The site selected for the new stadium was near the formerly blighted Inner Harbor, once a collection of abandoned warehouses and other relics from a time when the shallow, narrow harbor could accommodate the shipping vessels of the day. Redevelopment of the Inner Harbor got underway in early 1970s and by the time Camden Yards was completed the infrastructure was in place downtown to provide high end dining and accommodations to the Orioles new fan base–folks from outside the city limits who could zip up 95, take the spur straight to the Camden Yards parking lot, sit for a game in the beautiful new stadium and, if they didn’t choose to wander the Harbor shops afterwards, zip right back out and put the hollow shell of Baltimore’s skyline safely in the rearview mirror.

Camden Yards, plenty of parking; Camden Yards and the Baltimore Ravens new stadium added in 1998, lower right.


On July 24, 2009, “citizen” “journalists” James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles strolled in to the ACORN office in Baltimore with the goal of secretly taping the employees giving them advice about how to get a federal loan to support their fledgling prostitution ring.

Given what you’ve read above, how often do you think a clean-cut white male, dressed in khakis and a button down shirt, walks through that door with a young white thing on his arm asking for ACORN’s help getting his fourteen teenage El Salvadorian illegal immigrants to work hooking?

Click image to enlarge

I’m guessing never.

That’s just a guess, though.


In context, something about the O’Keefe version of what exactly transpired when he sat down with the ACORN employees seems off. But, with any con, you only need your marks to believe you long enough to give you what you want from them. In this instance, Breitbart, FoxNews, and then the major newscasters all believed just long enough to broadcast the con, never once puzzling over the sheer implausibility of the scenario O’Keefe was spinning–save to say in amazement that only a fool could possibly have believed that O’Keefe was running a sex slave ring and that Giles, the picture of health, was tricking for a living.

And, as we’ve already seen, that was pretty much the case: Fox and the “Main Stream Media” bit; the Senate and the House of Representatives bit; and within months ACORN declared bankruptcy.

Was ACORN a terribly run organization? Clearly. Should it have been driven into bankruptcy? Perhaps.

That’s not the issue that is our concern here, however. The question is this: is there an alternative to this way of using the new media? O’Keefe’s claim to fame is his understanding that digital technology makes it possible to create and disseminate propaganda on a scale never before possible. Are there any counter-examples?

Next: Part II of Baltimore, My Baltimore.


This is the fifth in an evolving series on Citizen Journalism. It may be read on its own or as part of the series, which begins with “My Brush with Celebrity: The Other Side of Cyber-Spying.” A summary of each section of the series may be found here:  Citizen Journalism and the Case of James O’Keefe (Table of Contents).

The definitive online source for information about the Baltimore riots in ’68 may be found here. A copy of the June 1968 report on the riots, which is the source for the statistical information on the damage, may be found here.

The Maryland Statewide Census from 1790-1990 is summarized here.

More recent Maryland Census data was accessed here.

Hamilton and Mill’s analysis of the move to Camden Yards may be found here. The quoted section regarding demolition appears on p. 38. I’ve also included the linked footnote, #71.


  1. You’ll probably want to take a pass on the next upteen entries, as the madcap adventures of Westwood and Aventura will, indeed, serve as the vehicle for exploring the connections between free agent image collectors and the larger social means for framing and distributing those images. As individuals, O’Keefe and Giles aren’t interesting–I grant you that–but as representatives of 2.0 activists they give me a way into the vulnerability and fragility of the U.S.’s version of secular society.

    We also agree that the stadium move is not causative; it’s indicative. The urban city has itself become a company store, where the locals must shop and the profits are then moved back out to the suburbs and beyond. I’ll be returning to this two posts on, when I consider the financial arrangements governing the stadium constructions. There’s a great piece on this, which I referenced above, but the link was broken. Check this out:

    Attempt was made to install Disqus, resulting in crashing, cursing, recriminations, stony silences, vows to fight again another day. Stay tuned.

    • If even the Chronicle can figure out Disqus…

      • Easy does it, von Snarkenstein. We had Disqus up on the site, and it runs fine on most browsers. But we’re having compatibility issues with, for example, the iPad, so we’re waiting until they get that figured out. We’ll keep you posted.

  2. I was really excited about where this was going, with the discussion of the moving stadium. I think you can probably do reasonably interesting similar analyses of Philadelphia – where the stadiums are located and where the city is under siege. I’m not sure it’s quite in the same dire straits as Baltimore though.

    However, I wouldn’t be so sure to peg it as the primary reason – seems more correlative than causative.

    Very sad to see you return to O’Keefe at the end. I would maintain that he’s not worthy the length of attention you’ve given him, even if only as a vehicle for exploring larger ideas.

    Also, last request to enable Disqus. Please confer with your webmaster.

Let me know what you're thinking

%d bloggers like this:
Skip to toolbar