BALTIMORE (AP) — As Latoya Peoples painted a mural with high school-age students Monday in Baltimore, she was determined not to let President Donald Trump’s recent tweets about the city “sink in too much.”
Peoples was in Sandtown-Winchester, the West Baltimore neighborhood where Freddie Gray grew up before he died in police custody in 2015. Now Baltimore is in the spotlight again, this time because of Trump’s recent attacks on Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings in which the president called the congressman’s district a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.”
But Maryland’s 7th Congressional District is far from monolithic. While some parts have struggled with poverty and crime, the district also includes more affluent areas and some famous Baltimore landmarks such as Johns Hopkins University and its hospital, as well as the Social Security Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Elsewhere are cultural touchstones like the Baltimore Museum of Art.
The president’s comments have rocked Maryland’s largest city, and residents say their home bears no resemblance to the place Trump described.
“People think you can’t walk through here. It’s intimidating,” Peoples said of her district. “It’s nothing like that.”
The district includes not just swaths of Baltimore City, but also parts of Baltimore and Howard Counties. It is nearly 53% black, according to census data.
Few residents will deny that Baltimore is struggling, particularly when it comes to violent crime and drugs. The city’s murder rate has soared in recent years, with Baltimore recording more than 300 homicides in 2018, most from gunfire. Residents say those struggles have compounded over the years, owing to institutional segregation and neglect by the federal government.
Nancy O. Greene, who has lived in Baltimore for 15 years, pointed to the thriving arts community in her neighborhood of Charles Village and throughout the district.
“You’re not going to keep Baltimore down,” she said. “Despite anything, people will come together to defend the city. It has a rich history from Edgar Allen Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald — you name it. … You can’t say this city doesn’t have a lot going for it.”
Earlier Monday, the Rev. Al Sharpton held a news conference at a West Baltimore church alongside former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, a Republican.
Trump has described Sharpton as “a con man” who “Hates Whites & Cops!” Sharpton said Trump “has a particular venom for blacks and people of color.”
For his part, Steele challenged Trump to visit blighted areas of West Baltimore and talk with residents to learn about their challenges and understand their “hard work and commitment.”
“Mr. President, come on down,” Steele said. “The streets are ready for you. The neighborhoods are ready for you … Put the tweet down, brother, and show up.”
But some local residents say they are not interested in a visit from Trump.
Benn Ray, who lives in the Remington neighborhood of Baltimore City and is the co-owner of Atomic Books in neighboring Hampden, said Trump “hasn’t ingratiated himself to the city, he hasn’t made himself welcome.”
“I don’t know what city he is describing,” he said of Trump’s attacks. “Like every other city, we have rats and crime. We have good neighborhoods and bad. But as a city, and a community, we endeavor to make things better.”
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly in Washington and Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland, contributed reporting.