The Baltimore I Know

04/30/2015 01:07 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2015

For the past few days, I have been addicted to the news: interviews with protesters, images of the National Guard patrolling familiar areas, and a seemingly endless stream of videos of rioters. I have also been constantly checking social media, seeing what doesn't make the big headlines: YouTube clips of parents telling their children to go home, #BaltimoreRiots on Twitter, and constant Facebook status updates of friends with links to online trackers of riot activity, quotes, pictures and their own feelings. But what has stuck out to me the most in the midst of this slurry of media coverage is the phrase, "this is not the Baltimore I know."

Used by both newscasters and peers alike, I have no doubt that saying "this is not the Baltimore I know" is a well-intentioned gesture of love towards this city. However, it strikes me as immensely inaccurate. The riots are the Baltimore we know, otherwise they would not be happening here. However, we need to remember that this is a tragic part of the Baltimore we know, and does not come close to representing the entire fabric of the city.

I am by no means trying to undermine the devastation that occurred in Baltimore Monday night -- I was brought to tears watching burning buildings on the news -- but by saying "this is not the Baltimore I know," we are doing our city a disservice by completely separating the riots from the city, and the bystanders from the rioters. We all inhabit the same city; we need to try to understand what the cause of this divide is, and how people can live within a mile of each other but exist worlds apart.

I have spent the past four years working and learning in Baltimore and have had the chance to meet people from all sides of the city: recovering heroin addicts, privileged high school students, vegan hipsters, and children from the inner-city. Just a few weeks ago, I was in the Gilmor Homes development blocks from where Freddie Gray was chased and arrested. I am not an expert, but escaping the "Hopkins bubble" has allowed me to explore the multi-layered complexities of Baltimore's socioeconomic make-up, and see how vastly differently people can be perceived and treated within the same larger community.

So let's use the riots, started by some, to remind us of the feelings of oppression, frustration and anger felt by many. Institutional discrimination, from redlining to food deserts to police brutality, is unfortunately a part of our Baltimore; but so are the thousands of peaceful protesters that gathered this past weekend, the gang members who came together to try to subdue the violence, and the volunteers who cleaned up after the looting. I won't pretend that I can fully understand or relate to the deep-seeded issues in this city, but I do know there is much more to Baltimore than what is probably on your TV screen right now. This is a complicated but tenacious place; that is the Baltimore I know.