Why a city teetered on the brink

Story highlights

  • CNN's Carol Costello lived in Baltimore for years and still loves the city
  • She says Baltimore had a chance to get it right after Freddie Gray's death; it didn't, but it could still happen
  • "I hope what's happening here will be the tipping point for the nation," she writes

Carol Costello anchors the 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN's "Newsroom" each weekday. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Baltimore is, by far, the most frustrating place I have ever lived. It teeters on the edge of being one of America's great cities but never quite overcomes its image as the corrupt, crime-ridden place featured in David Simon's "The Wire."

With every brick that is hurled and every fire that is lit, that dreary, troubling perception of Baltimore is cemented once again. All that's good about the city -- the history, the Inner Harbor, the local bars that serve better food than the some of the finest restaurants in New York City, and, yes, the wonderful unpretentious quirkiness Baltimore clings to -- is obliterated.
Carol Costello
I want to say it makes me angry. But I'm just sad.
    It's how a lot of people who live in Baltimore feel right now. They're just sad. Knowing that, yet again, Baltimore teetered on the edge and fell backward instead of forward.
    As The Baltimore Sun's Dan Rodricks wrote: "The Freddie Gray death was a brutal tragedy, but we had a chance, here in the post-Ferguson era, to get this right: To demand justice the way Dr. King would have wanted it, to gather the big voices of Baltimore, black and white, and demand change, and not just in how the police operate."
    That did not happen. But you know what? I still think it could.
    Maybe I'm crazy. Because even though Baltimore drives me mad, I keep coming back. I moved away in the late '90s, but came back in the mid-2000's. I moved away again in August but refuse to sell our house.
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    There is something about Baltimore that gets under your skin, and I will wait and hope and pray Baltimore's better nature will win the day. I hope what's happening here will be the tipping point for the nation. Maybe, because of this frustrating moment, we'll finally realize the rioting is not only about alleged police brutality or racial profiling, but about hopelessness.
    Years ago, when I anchored at WBAL in Baltimore, the station sent me to an elementary school in a tough neighborhood. "Give the kids a pep talk," they told me.
    When I arrived at the school, there were bars on the windows. The building was shabby. The children were from economically challenged families, some of those families missing a parent -- or two. I stood behind the podium and looked into their earnest faces and realized I had no idea what to say. I don't know what it's like to live in a neighborhood where drug dealers stand on the corner and bullets fly, often for no reason at all. How can one dream in a place like that?
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    Of course, hopelessness does not excuse violent behavior. The people who burned businesses and injured police officers deserve our condemnation. But hopelessness does help explain why such things happen.
    If one has no place in society, or even perceives no place, what value are social institutions, structures and the fabric in which the rest of society exists? When government is not responsive to cries for reform, what is its value?
    Maybe, just maybe, we'll look beyond black and white, cop and criminal, Democrat and Republican, and solve our damned problems.
    Baltimore. You lovely, ugly city. I'll be back.