With due respect to all and with proper acknowledgement of both the explicit and implicit statements coming out of Baltimore tonight - and acknowledgement that I'm not Cornel West - random thoughts:
1) The Preakness will go on as planned, undoubtedly with unprecedented security since that is the new American way. In the wake of what's happening, any hint that the city, state and federal governments could not assure safety around one of Baltimore's last "national" events would be completely unacceptable to the region's majority (and that includes people of all races);
2) Pimlico is actually somewhat oddly placed. It is in NW Baltimore City, not all that far from the epicenter of what occurred today.
To the north, the neighborhood skews Jewish (think West Rogers Park). To the east is essentially forestry leading to the Jones Expressway. To the south is dicey (and the direction toward today's civil disorder). To the west is mainly modest single homes, overwhelmingly African-American-occupied, and it radiates as an oasis in which its residents fight a relentlessly uphill battle to keep the neighborhood respectable. (I've parked there and walked alone to and from the track.);
3) Baltimore City itself (a distinction made with respect to the surrounding Baltimore County) has lost fully one-third of its population since 1970. It is now app. 60% Afr-American, 30% white and 10% "other." There is a very odd feel to the city. Its history is compelling; its Inner Harbor, downtown and MLB and NFL stadia are veneers; its many pockets of poverty and hopelessness bleed through;
4) Before my first trip to Baltimore, I was warned by a very intuitive and seasoned traveler - who knew a senior Bobcat owner who once plowed snow for Earlie Fires - that "If you go on any kind of walk in Baltimore, stay aware that the city is compact and changes in tone in some places with incredible swiftness. Don't stray, especially at night. Don't think you're back home in Flossmoor, ambling free and easy.";
5) Pimlico is without question the "coziest" of the three Triple Crown tracks. Ironically, many neighborhood kids - predominantly Afr-American - pick up a few bucks on Preakness Day by "borrowing" shopping carts from nearby grocery stores and caddying in coolers, umbrellas, backpacks, et al, for arriving fans who have parked in the areas to the north and west. You normally tip them $5, $10, $20, whatever and then they go back looking for a reload. It is American enterprise at its most basic and has long been an accepted part of P-Day atmosphere. I once handed a pre-teen $10 to carry my modest tote bag to the gate merely because I liked his jaunty little chutzpah (I know---hey Big Spender);
6) Final note about Pimlico/P-Day security: Don't forget this is the track where that wacky Asian-American fellow hopped the rail c. 2002 (
) and tried to punch a horse or something in a feature on the undercard. (If memory serves, wasn't Artax involved in the race?) Long-time residents of the region - including the white flighters who gradually fled to Baltimore County - simply seem to accept the fact that there is a glaring divide in the metropolitan area and it is "Caveat visitor" in a significant number of areas. They instinctively know where to go and where not to. (No wonder Poe called it home and Mencken found it a bountiful roost for his seminal signature brand of American cynicism.)
OK, enough, other than: The template of the Freddie Gray tragedy is becoming much too familiar. It's not right but it's also not right to think the many good and reasonably honest policemen in America don't have every right to believe they'll clock out whole.
I'm not Cornel West but I think the vast majority of kids I've encountered outside Pimlico may not be completely conscious of the fact that what they really want are reasonable levels of self esteem, the developed capacity for independent thought and a proper expectation of enough decent education to assure a fair run at an honorable and fulfilling life. More Malcolm X and a whole lot less bling, "bay-eetch" and "ball."
The media - social and legacied - desensitizes. Anderson Cooper tonight on CNN appeared on the verge of tears when sniper fire didn't erupt within range of the predatory network cameras. Trayvon Martin seems eons ago; Emmett Till is positively prehistoric. Let's Tweet!
Before my brain shuts down tonight I'll either reread JFK's transcendent American University speech of June 10, 1963 - which addressed the commonality of all men within the context of the-then third-rail US-USSR divide - or I'll take the more aural way out and simply listen to Frank Zappa's enduring "Trouble Comin' Every Day" from The Mothers of Invention's debut "Freak Out!" album (1966 but written in the wake of the deadly August 1965 riots in Watts).
We live in a frighteningly disconnected and troubled land.