The Baltimore Portal has had two homes. From February 2017 to October 2017, the Portal could be found right in front of 230-year old Lexington Market in the heart of downtown. The location attracts a diversity of residents and visitors and highlights the multiple constituencies police are responsive to in various parts of the city. In November 2017, the Portal moved to the Station North neighborhood, where it was placed in a lot managed by a community arts initiative. The location and dynamics of the neighborhood are unique. Located a half-mile south of Johns Hopkins University and neighboring majority white-neighborhoods, this largely Black neighborhood is simultaneously experiencing a period of gentrification and severely suffering from a city-wide heroin epidemic. Despite these challenges, local organizations and activists are pursuing arts, education, and civic engagement as a means to surmount them. The Portal played a small part in this effort. In addition to criminal justice dialogues, local organizations like Noisy Tenants and its after-school program used the Portal to hold a graffiti workshop with Berlin, while visualizing the type of superhero their community needed. Wide Angle Media students met with Dignity and Power Now, founded and chaired by Black Lives Matter Cofounder Patrisse Khan-Cullors, to discuss the BLM movement and repercussions of incarceration. The Baltimore Portal was the host of more than 450 criminal justice dialogues—162 in Lexington Market and 301 in Station North.
In addition to neighborhood context, the Baltimore Portal was present for some of the most tumultuous years of police-citizen relations in the city’s history. The Baltimore Police Department was in the process of changing its practices as a response to the 2016 consent decree issued by the Department of Justice following an investigation in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death. Meanwhile, the press uncovered numerous stories of corruption in the Department, particularly on the part of its plainclothes units. And since 2015, the city has cycled through five police commissioners. Meanwhile, Baltimore experienced its highest per-capita homicide rate in history in 2017. Reporters connect this dramatic spike in community violence to changing police-citizen relations in the wake of city-wide police reform. How, do we address the problem of community violence without initiating state violence vis-a-vis the police? This is the urgent question that animates Baltimoreans seeking creative and restorative ways to ensure the safety and dignity of their community.
When I leave out this Portal, I'm gonna see some police, police brutality.
- Baltimore Participant, 36-year-old Black Female