Freddie Gray protests
Baltimore protests over Freddie Gray's unexplained death in police custody turn violent. Getty

Ever since Baltimore was immortalised in hit HBO show The Wire, the US east coast port city has become a byword for poverty, drug addiction and violent crime.

The riots that swept the city over the weekend and provoked a wide-ranging curfew Tuesday have only served to bolster that reputation. The death in police custody of 25-year-old Freddie Gray on April 12 was the impetus for the riots, but Baltimore's problems run deep.

As the scenes of violence and destruction continue to filter out of one of America's poorest cities, IBTImes UK outlines ten things you need to know about Baltimore.

1. Baltimore has a long and illustrious history as a port city

Baltimore was once the second largest port of entry for immigrants to the US and one of the best naturally protected harbours in the world. In 1812, the British condemned Baltimore as a "nest of pirates" and the city was one of the major bastions of anti-British sentiment.

The Battle of Baltimore was one of the major victories during the American War for Independence, when the colonists resisted an attack by the British. The battle inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem which became the national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner.

2. It also has a not so illustrious history for slave-owning and segregation

Baltimore was a southern slave city prior to the American Civil War and kept slavery legal even after becoming part of the Union. When slavery was finally abolished in Baltimore, the city's black population swelled, as freed slaves headed to the city from all over Maryland.

In 1910, in response to the purchase of a large house in one of Baltimore's best neighbourhoods by a black lawyer, the city enacted the first citywide segregation law in the US, which segregated each residential block. By the mid-1930's, 89% of Baltimore's African-American population was confined to an area surrounding the downtown central business district.

Those divisions have largely continued today, despite the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which makes racial discrimination in the housing market illegal. As recently as 1995, a US federal judge ruled that by moving black families from one low-income and racially-segregated area to another, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had broken the law.

3. Baltimore has fair share of famous residents

Although born in Boston, Edgar Allan Poe, the high priest of American gothic, has always been associated with Baltimore, where he married his wife and published his famous poem, the Raven, in 1845. His house in Baltimore was made a national landmark in the 1970s and is now a museum.

Baywatch and Knight Rider star David Hasselhoff was born in Baltimore, his father one of the tens of thousands of Germans that have long called the port city home. Baseball legend Babe Ruth was born in Baltimore and began his career at the Baltimore Orioles, before he was sold to the Boston Red Sox.

4. And its own dialect

The Baltimore accent is said to be one of the most distinctive in America, referred to as Baltimorese or Bawlamarese and popularised on US crime series The Wire, during which some of the characters' Bawla patois was so pronounced that some viewers needed subtitles.

In a look at regional dialects in Gawker last year, Baltimore's accent was pitted against Boston in a poll of the country's worst dialects but easily won the day, with 34% of the vote to Boston's 65%. Visit for a full dictionary and stock phrases.

5. And is becoming popular with hipsters and millennials

A report by an Oregon-based think tank, City Observatory, cited the Baltimore neighbourhoods of Canton, Hampden and Locust Point as areas that attract young Americans aged 25 to 34. It added Baltimore on a list of 51 cities that are magnets for 'millennials', who are being pushed out of major cities as prices rise and rents become unaffordable.

The numbers appeared to back the claim up: finding that over 25,000 millennials lived in the centre of Baltimore compared to 13,000 in 2010, a 92% increase. In an interview in Christian Science Monitor, a young couple that had recently moved to the city from Washington described trendy artisan cafes, vintage shops and the art scene as major positives.

6. But is one of the poorest cities in America

A report last year revealed that in Baltimore City 150,000 of 620,000 residents live below the poverty line – with a family of four surviving on an average of $23,492 per year. As many as 9.7% of people in the city were unemployed.

Indeed, the same report that cited an increase of millennials also revealed that analysis of census data shows that areas of the city that were poor in the 1970s were as poor or poorer today. The majority of Baltimore has poverty rates that were double the national average.

A map of the city colour-coded for its poorest areas revealed that the areas around the city centre have and had chronic poverty, while areas on the outskirts have become poor since the 1970s. Consider also that in central Baltimore, 60% of the population is black and 30% white, a figure that is reversed in the city suburbs, so black residents are disproportionately affected by poverty.

7. This is not the first time Baltimore has seen an outbreak of street violence

The assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4 1968 sparked four days of rioting in Baltimore that saw hundreds of African Americans loot stores, burn buildings and fight with police. King's death was the impetus for the violence, but the wider causes was rising poverty, anger with the police and sub-par housing in Baltimore's growing black population.

The parallels with the situation today and the riots that have swept Baltimore have not been lost on those that remember them. City Council President Jack Young invoked the memory of the deeply divisive and destructive events of 1968 this week when he urged residents of Baltimore to "stop the madness."

"We cannot go back to 1968 where we burned down our own infrastructure and our own neighbourhoods. We still have scars from 1968 where we had some burnt out building and businesses did not want to come back to the city of Baltimore. We have to stop the burning down and the breaking in of these stores because in the end it hurts us as a people," he said.

8. The city has a serious drug problem

HBO chose Baltimore for its series The Wire for a reason – the city is the heroin capital of the US. ABC reported in March that in a city of 645,000 people there are an estimated 60,000 drug addicts, with 48,000 of them on heroin.

9. Baltimore has the fifth highest murder rate of any US city

Baltimore's murder rate in 2009 was ranked second highest of any American city. In 2014 it was fifth, with 37.4 murders per 100,000 people. Cities with higher rates were Detroit, New Orleans, Newark and St Louis.

According to statistics compiled by the Baltimore Sun, there were 211 homicides in 2014, down from 232 in 2013 the vast majority of which were shootings and took place in the west, south-west and north-east of the city. So far 2015 has seen 68 murders.

Its violent crime rate was 1,417 per 100,000 people, Forbes reported in April, which is a drop of 5% but still ranks Baltimore in the 15<sup>th worst US cities for all violent crimes except rape.

10. And a history of police brutality

The Baltimore Sun recently revealed that the City of Baltimore paid out $6.3 million since 2011 to settle police-misconduct claims, including $255,000 last week to the family of a man shot and killed by police in 2012.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has gone on record saying that lawsuits have gone down during her tenure, which is true; the Sun reported that 156 lawsuits were filed from 2013 through late 2014 compared to 193 between 2011 and 2012.

But a prominent local lawyer that has brought cases against dozens of police officers in recent years argued that a drop in lawsuits over a two-year period was not a big accomplishment.

"I don't think it has anything to do with a change in police policies," Attorney A. Dwight Pettit told the newspaper. "We're still seeing a lot of excessive force."