“Why has this happened?” Baltimore, more than the Preakness

Now is usually when they start. The comments about going to the Preakness, the inevitable warnings about the “bad” neighborhood, the perpetuation of the image of Baltimore as a lawless, terrifying abyss of crime.

This year those comments started a little earlier, the warnings a little more urgent, given the unrest in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody last month. On social media, racing fans wondered whether they should attend the Preakness this year, or whether the Preakness should be moved, or whether it should be held at all.

The city of Baltimore is graceful, historic, and beautiful. Much of it is also ravaged by poverty, and parts of it by crime, and the areas that abut Pimlico Race Course represent all of these Baltimore realities. Within walking distance across Northern Parkway is Mt. Washington, a middle- and upper-middle class neighborhood of tree-lined, undulating streets with the feel of an arboretum; “across the track,” in the local vernacular, one treads more cautiously, aware of gang presences. Closer to Pimlico live poor and middle-class families, mostly African-American.

Tony Pridgen has lived near the track for much of the last 40 years. A veteran and retired corrections officer who now works security for nearby Sinai Hospital, Pridgen grew up in the neighborhood known as Garrison, returning as an adult to care for his ailing grandfather.

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