BALTIMORE – Former Chenango County residents who relocated to Baltimore are sharing their personal experiences concerning the riots and protests that have left parts of the city in ruins.
“Coming from Norwich, it’s hard to truly express how terrifying it is when the entire city is on the brink of destruction,” said Christopher Greeley. “And gangs of people are busting out windows and setting fires right next door to where you live.”
In an interview with The Evening Sun on Tuesday, Greeley said, “All the justified cop drama and the civil unrest aside, all last night was was ridiculous rioting and looting all for nonsensical personal gain, and all it did was take an already struggling community on the rise and just knock it back.”
Greeley added that a local pharmacy and soon-to-be-completed complex for elderly housing were both destroyed. “It’s sad, and I fear it will take years for Baltimore to come out of this. Pray it doesn't get worse. Now that we have over 5,000 National Guard here with machine guns, I can assume the best we can hope for is that it just doesn’t get worse.”
Kati Jensen, a 2006 graduate of Norwich High School, has resided in Baltimore for three years.
“Baltimore is the city I chose to call home and I am extremely grateful for the police, firefighters, and the national guard for their work to protect my city. There is no excuse for the violence, destruction, and looting that has taken place,” said Jensen. “But there is also absolutely no excuse for a person to die from the result of a spinal cord injury received while in police custody. Don’t lose sight of that.”
Alex Belush, another 2006 NHS grad, moved to the Baltimore area nearly seven years ago but has lived downtown for approximately two years. Belush runs a bar and since the mayor of Baltimore has imposed the 10 p.m. curfew, much has changed.
“There are restaurants that are in fear of opening,” said Belush. “There is a whole district that just shut down for the whole week. Everyone has had to modify their schedules, and office buildings are closing at 2 p.m.”
“A lot of people here are upset with the news coverage,” said Belush.
With regard to the bar he runs, Belush said there has been a smaller crowd than normal.
“I’ve seen people on the way by flipping trash cans over and things just getting destroyed,” Belush said. “Don’t get me wrong, there are some people that are legitimately protesting. But in a place with a lot of people, something is bound to go wrong.” Belush said he heard people yelling ‘Our streets! Our streets.’
Belush shared his feelings about Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and said not only he, but many other residents are upset with how she has handled the situation.
“The Governor has moved his office to Baltimore,” said Belush. “He is doing good things, and she (Rawlings-Blake), is hiding out.”
Belush added that some neighborhoods have more to fear than others. He said that at night time, there is some fear in going to work, as the National Guard is not in that neighborhood, but in the business districts.
As for his place of employment, he said they are taking extra precautions to make sure everything is accounted for.
“Everyone is trying to go about their lives,” said Belush. He added that using common sense is of the utmost importance.
Belush said that he has a friend who is a Norwich native who lives in the same Baltimore neighborhood who has a friend from Buffalo whose residence is in a rough area. Belush said his friend has allowed the woman to stay with her for her safety.
“Parking is usually a huge problem here, which is something people from Chenango County might not understand,” said Belush. “But when there are so many open spots right now, it’s somewhat surreal.”
Belush explained that on Monday, when things were “going down” and residents were waiting for the National Guard to arrive, there was some fear because the police officers were working long shifts with only one or two hour breaks before they had to return to duty.
“I feel safer with the National Guard here,” said Belush.
Belush had a message he wished to share with the looters: “Don’t take anything from my house. I’m too poor and there is nothing to take. Also, try not to destroy the city. Don’t destroy areas of commerce, and do not mess with the tax base.”
Sherburne-Earlville graduate Ethan Sconzo additionally shared his experiences as a current Baltimore resident.
“I’ve lived in Baltimore for almost three years and have greatly enjoyed it. I've had some awesome experiences and have met friends that I am honestly happy to say will be friends for life,” said Sconzo. “I've worked at a restaurant called Frank & Nic's West End Grille. I was deeply saddened to see the destruction of the restaurant as a result of the largely peaceful protests turned violent.”
Said Sconzo, “I am a little disconcerted that all of the facts of the tragic Freddie Gray have not been displayed to the public. It's awful that he lost his life. However, people need to be patient and let an investigation be as thorough as possible. I feel like people are rushing to an answer of guilt – and the officers may indeed be guilty – but there's also a process that needs to run its course.”
“I think the police and National Guard's presence was warranted in the fact that people are wishing for peace,” said Sconzo. “Although I think far too many times police can escalate a situation when in reality, the most prudent method is to de-escalate a situation.” He said he understands both sides of the situation. “The police and those calling for justice in the form of police brutality … I don't think either side wants violence at all.”
“I commend the police's bravery and use of restraint in such a precarious time,” Sconzo said. “Although I had never even visited Baltimore before I came to live here, I've truly learned to love this city and hope that positive change results from the peaceful protestors. All the people from New York that I know down here love it here and we’re very scared but hope that some positive comes out of this.”