Freddie Gray died while in custody of the Baltimore Police. In the wake of that, amidst cries of outrage from a community fed up with a long term history of police brutality, racism, and injustice, Baltimore rose up in protest. Their anger could no longer be contained and it spilled over.
The protests began passionately, but with peace prevailing. Thousands of citizens took to the streets to voice their concerns. On Monday, April 27, things changed. What precipitated that change is a matter of debate. Fliers and Twitter posts encouraging young people to rise up and “purge” the city circulated. Still other sources claim the forceful presence of police in riot gear set off a powder keg.
How it started doesn’t matter. It’s not relevant.
The fact is, it started.
The violence began.
Rocks were thrown. Car windows broken.
And then it got worse. Some lit fires, then blocked the access of fire trucks responding to put out the blaze. Someone even cut a fire hose being used to fight one of the fires.
Monday evening, the violence spread.
Groups of youth spread out through the city, smashing windows, breaking things, taking and destroying things.
They’re just things, though. It’s just stuff. Not a life.
The cry went up that this was the result of repressed anger. That it was justifiable. That looting is a “victimless crime” because no one is hurt, and insurance will cover the losses.
On Tuesday, the city looked like a different place. Once thriving neighborhoods now looked like war zones. Citizens came out in droves to help clean up. Broken windows were boarded up. Broken glass swept up and thrown out.
It’s just stuff.
But lives were impacted just the same.
In the Mount Vernon neighborhood, it’s easy to see the path of destruction. The boarded up windows show the way. On Charles and Centre Streets, the damage looks almost random. Most of the businesses hit by rioters are small, local, independently owned shops. Most have Indian or Korean owners. Most do not have anything beyond basic liability insurance.
The Truth About Insurance
Businesses are required to have liability insurance. Whether they have anything additional is up to them. Most small businesses chose not to. The cost is too high. The risk minimal. Whatever the reason, it’s not something that’s automatic. Liability insurance does not cover damage to the business. And those businesses that do have other insurance? Coverage for loss that results from “civil unrest” is limited, usually no higher than 50%, and often these types of loss are not covered at all.
Leaving small businesses to bear the burden of not only repairing the damage, but also replacing their lost or damaged merchandise out of pocket.
The losses go deeper than that. Some of the businesses have been able to reopen, but how attractive is a place with boarded up windows? Others rely on tourist trade to survive, and people are not coming into Baltimore for a happy visit right now.
With a mandatory curfew in place, any business that relies on late night traffic – any bar or restaurant – is losing a significant portion of its income.
The argument that “it’s just stuff” fails to acknowledge that lives are impacted by all forms of loss. No, stuff is not as important as a life, but as anyone who has been victim to a theft can attest, it’s still not something you want to hear when you’re the one who has been stolen from. The person whose car was stolen does not want to hear, “well, at least you weren’t in it.” The person whose home was robbed is not comforted by statements that “it’s just stuff, just be happy you were not home.”
Lives matter. Freddie Gray’s life should have mattered. That is true.
And the lives, and livelihoods, of these business owners matter as well. Without a thriving business community, the city slides into blight and further into poverty. If you doubt that fact, look at places like Detroit. No one benefits. No one.
Change is necessary. There is no doubt about that. It’s time for the city to wake up. On Friday, May 1, charges were filed against all six officers involved in Freddie Gray’s arrest. It’s one small step, but a significant one.
But there is more to this story than the injustices suffered by Freddie Gray, and Baltimore’s black community. There’s more to this story than the politics, the anger, the hatred, and the violence.
There are small stories, of small businesses, working to make it in the city. They’re here, despite the crime, despite the challenges, and they’re part of this city as well.
The small businesses in the city need support if they’re to survive.
Shop at a local store. Eat at a local cafe.
We spoke to several local business owners about the damage done, and their losses. All were surprisingly positive, determined to return to business in the city. All spoke of the problems rampant within the city police force and government. All spoke of how the riots and the ensuing curfew negatively impacted their business.
Part 2 – Baltimore Business Owners Speak Up