What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

‘There’s always need’: Baltimore unrest highlights struggles with hunger and crime

One in five people in Baltimore live in a “food desert,” an area without grocery stores and fresh food, made worse by the recent riots that destroyed some of the convenience stores on which many rely. But that’s just one of the problems that residents face. Hari Sreenivasan reports on how residents are working to bring stability and peace to a neglected and hungry neighborhood.

Read the Full Transcript

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The rifts in Baltimore exposed by the Freddie Gray case go far beyond just police and justice.

    Hari Sreenivasan brings us the story from a neighborhood that was struggling before the unrest with gang violence and hunger.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    On this Thursday, schoolchildren at Matthew Henson Elementary helped unload boxes of donated food from local food banks and grocery stores. The kids stacked them, carted them and stored them in what has become a too common post-riot ritual in this Baltimore community: food distribution.

    The fist-bumping Orioles fan is Dr. Marvin Cheatham, a retired civil rights leader and current head of the Matthew Henson Neighborhood Association.

  • MARVIN CHEATHAM, President, Matthew A. Henson Neighborhood Association:

    You can't point fingers at anyone specifically, but for 25 years, at least, this community has been neglected.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Since the rioters destroyed at least four convenience stores in the neighborhood, it has been that much harder for people here to get the basics.

  • MARVIN CHEATHAM:

    No meats, no vegetables, no fruits, no poultry, no fish, none of that. You can buy potato chips and pretzels and cigarettes and soda, but no real food.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    That's because convenience stores are the only stores nearby. These streets are already part of what the Department of Agriculture calls a food desert, a place with low-income populations that have little access to fresh foods and a grocery store. One in five people in Baltimore lives in a food desert.

  • MARVIN CHEATHAM:

    We have 15 liquor stores in our area.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And not one grocery store?

  • MARVIN CHEATHAM:

    Not one grocery store.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    At nearby St Peter Claver Church, Pastor Ray Bomberger is feeling the surge of need from his neighbors. They are hungry.

  • REV. RAY BOMBERGER, St. Peter Claver Church:

    There's always need in this neighborhood, in this area. There's always need, but now it's like everybody.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The supply of donations and the demand for food has ebbed and flowed since the Monday riots.

  • REV. RAY BOMBERGER:

    Most people here live day to day. And, you know, they can't afford to stockpile food. And so, at the end of the day, if that is gone, then they have no place to go. They need somewhere.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The pastor knows the handouts are a short-term solution.

  • REV. RAY BOMBERGER:

    What this needs to drive us to really seek out and address those basic fundamental needs that underlie all the difficulties.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    He sees the deeper issues that underlie the recent unrest, issues that these men are trying to address head on.

    MUNIR BAHAR, 300 Men March: I know there's a lot of attention here on Freddie Gray, but don't forget what we living and what we must continue to fight to decrease.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    This is the weekly gathering of the 300 Men March group, a 2-year-old men's organization focused on stopping gun violence in Baltimore.

  • MUNIR BAHAR:

    Men need to get off the couch and step outside and be more accountable for what's going on in their neighborhood. Women have a role too, but, historically, in Baltimore, men have been neglectful in their roles, in my opinion.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    We caught up with Munir Bahar at the abandoned building he converted to a fitness and health center for kids and adults alike, to find out how they plan to tackle these underlying problems.

  • MUNIR BAHAR:

    We canvass high-crime neighborhoods. And what we do, we call it the street engagement operation. And we go out every Friday night June through October, every Friday night to engage all the young guys that we see outside, and we deliver that primary message. We got to stop killing each other.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    They say their focused approach already brought crime down for a summer in the Belair-Edison neighborhood, and the goal is to scale up and go citywide to reduce killings.

  • MUNIR BAHAR:

    What happened to Freddie Gray, it's paramount that we get to the bottom of it, but that's one issue, and we have nine other issues that are equally as important.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Since Tuesday, there have already been fourteen shootings and homicides are up 25 percent this year. Bahar says the focus on police-on-black crime misses a larger fact.

  • MUNIR BAHAR:

    I can tell you, as a young black man, I know, as most young black men know, the chances of you getting killed by another black man far outnumber the chances of you getting killed by police.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    In the wake of the riots, 300 men took on a new role, standing between protesters and police.

  • MUNIR BAHAR:

    We want to see peace between everybody, and so that's a — an effort to sort of protect the protester from getting themselves hurt and possibly getting themselves killed.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Bahar says, regardless of whether the Baltimore police officers are found guilty or innocent of Freddie Gray's death, his organization doesn't stand with the protesters or the police. They stand for and are trying to create a peaceful community, and hopefully a less hungry one.

    Hari Sreenivasan, PBS NewsHour, Baltimore.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest