BALTIMORE — Pigtown is a Baltimore neighborhood some two miles south of Sandtown, Freddie Gray's neighborhood.
Gray's death on April 19, a week after the 25-year-old black man was arrested and suffered injuries while in police custody, triggered mass protests against the treatment of Baltimore's black communities by law enforcement. The protests escalated into violent unrest, and both local authorities and the Department of Justice are investigating the circumstances of Gray's death.
In a city that is 63 percent black, Pigtown is a white enclave, created by migrants from West Virginia and western Maryland after World War II. What aligns it with Sandtown, where most residents are black, is poverty.
Pigtown's white residents say that while skin color plays a role in who is targeted by police, they've come to believe police harass them as well because like Sandtown residents, they're poor.
“We all get treated the same: badly,” said a 54-year-old woman who gave her name only as Sarah, as she sat on a stoop with her brother Roy. Both are white.
Michael Brown, 22, who grew up in Pigtown on the same street as Sarah and Roy, echoed his neighbor's sentiment.
Because most Pigtown residents are poor, police assume they're committing crimes, Brown said, treating black people as drug dealers and white people as drug buyers.
“Like you see how me and my daughter are sitting down on the front step? They’d pull up and act like this is not my house,” Brown said as he sat with his toddler on his stoop.
“They’ll say I’m loitering. How can I be loitering when this is my house? I think it’s a poverty thing," Brown said.
In 2014, there were 952 violent crimes in Sandtown and 217 in Pigtown, according to Baltimore data. The city statistics include murder, assault, rape and armed robbery in its compilation of all violent crimes.
Even taking into account the difference in population size — Sandtown has about 9,000 residents, or about three times more than Pigtown — Sandtown has more violent crime, according to city data.
Pigtown’s lower crime rate means little in how residents are treated by police, say locals, many of who believe police look down on them.
The cops' nickname for Pigtown is “Billyland,” derived from “hillbilly,” a derogatory term for poor white people, former Baltimore Sun police reporter David Simon wrote in "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets."
Simon spent all of 1988, as what he called an "intern" with homicide detectives, some black, some white.
“For Baltimore cops, hard-core billyness is generally regarded with as much disdain and humor as the hard-core ghetto culture,” Simon wrote. “If nothing else, this attitude provides some proof that it is class conscious, more than racism, that propels a cop toward a contempt for the huddled masses.”
Pigtown locals say not that much has changed since the year Simon spent with the police.
At Fielder’s Tavern, Pat Long, a 63-year-old bartender, has a straightforward take on Gray's death and what should happen to the six officers allegedly involved.
“I believe right is right, and wrong is wrong, and if they did wrong, they should be punished,” Long said as she served beers in Pigtown.
Like many residents of Baltimore, Long, who is white, believes that violence will erupt again if the Maryland attorney general's office decides not to punish the officers.
“It’s going to be bad,” she said. “It’s going to be bad.”