Echoes of Ferguson: Baltimore, A Personal Journey

ABC's Byron Pitts takes an intimate look at his hometown of Baltimore, where tensions have been brewing.
8:48 | 12/09/14

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Transcript for Echoes of Ferguson: Baltimore, A Personal Journey
Tonight, we're taking a look at the clashes between the police and the people they're sworn to protect. With questions of race and I equality swirling at the center. But the answers are not always black and white. Our Byron Pitts delves into these thorny issues with a personal journey to his hometown of Baltimore for the first installment of ABC's week-long series, race, justice in America. Reporter: Once again tonight, as temperatures fall across America, tempers are rising. Protesters scream. Parents pleading. The mother of that black 12-year-old boy killed in Cleveland, gunned down by a white policeman who mistook the child's toy gun for a real one. The moment caught on surveillance. What would you like to see happen right now? That the police be accountable for what they did to my son. Reporter: Die-ins for new York's ere garner. Hands up, don't shoot for Michael brown. Sports stars like Lebron James making their own statement in these cases and others, the optic optics reopen wounds. Today, the president weighed in, this time on black entertainment television. I want my grandsons to be treated like anybody else's grandsons. Reporter: But is it that simple? Eric garner's widow said no on "Meet the press" Sunday. I don't even feel like it's a black and white thing, honestly. Reporter: What has our nation convulsing from New York to L.A. Is more complicated than race. No place is it more complicated than Baltimore, America's 26th largest city. The police cat and powerful passers by in the comfort of fast-moving trains. My beloved hometown, known for the inner harbor, the orioles, crab cakes. And for better or worse, hb O's "The wire." An edgy police drama, supposed fictional look at a city ravaged by crime and corruption, after all those with means to leave did. Much of what "The wire" portrayed is real. This is the area I grew up in. My old high school is over there. Reporter: I go home to Baltimore often. What role does race play in the dynamic here in Baltimore? You have to let race go. We joke that nobody's white, nobody's black. We're all blue. Excuse me, excuse me. I did ask you a question, flight. Reporter: Distrust between the public and police is palpable. They just see the uniform and see a police officer. Reporter: We spent several dales and nights with comes on the street. A call goes out for a cop in need of backup. Plain clothes and uniformed officers speed to the scene, guns drawn. Turns out, it was one teenager stopped on possession of drug possession. That show of force made neighbors livid. The pedestrians that want to stand around and walk through, we get harassed the most. There's such a police presence in this area. You didn't need 20 police officers there, but everybody came. Reporter: That's lieutenant Joel fry. This is his unit. You make no apologies for that show of force? Absolutely not. Our safety is paramount. I mean, I've seen plenty of police get hurt and even killed because we didn't have that show of force. I'm not going to apologize it for. Reporter: Lieutenant fry is white. Bat mogs Baltimore is a predominantly black city. The police commissioner and the mayor here both african-american. Look at this. One of the many cameras set up across the city captures a black police officer punching a black man. The officer was charged with assault and is now on leave. The latest in a series of questionable encounters. The city of Baltimore has paid out $5.7 million in the last four years to settle more than 100 cases of alleged police brutality. Is it black and bhilt white or black versus blue? I think it's a little of both. Reporter: The legacy of race still is there. It does. The level of trust has increased but it continues to take dips down. A lot of people are doing the sort of things that need to be done. Reporter: Like me, he grew up in Baltimore. He's seen the city from many vantage points. A high school dropout and gang banger, he went on to graduate college, becoming a U.S. Congressman and national president of the naacp. I've never been to a city in America where there seems to be as much animosity as there is between the sit essentials of Baltimore and the police. How do you explain that? We had some tough police commissioners that would bust your head, through you in jail, lock you up for no reason. This area is gorgeous. Reporter: A big part of the police commissioner's job is to change that narrative. The former police chief of Oakland, he came to Baltimore two years ago. I think in certain parts of the community, we're seeing. We have to be honest and open about that. We have to change that. What I have to do is give the officers the skills and the ability to start changing that. Opening up conversations, communication and you hear me say this a lot. An listen. And listen to the people. Reporter: He was hired by Stephanie Rollings Blake. A native Baltimore Yan, she sees the connection between crime and public mistrust, but also a shrinking city and shrinking resources. In the past 50 years, Baltimore has lost nearly one-third of its population. You drive through Baltimore, it is heartbreaking what you see. How do you explain that? It's not rocket science. We've had years of disinvestment, years of flight. It should not matter what neighborhood you grow up or your parents live in. That should not determine your ability to go to a state of the art school and that's what we're going to have for Baltimore's kids. For now and in the future. So, we have to do that in order to attract families and make sure families stay in Baltimore. Reporter: Economics and education aside, public safety is still her biggest worry. There's some things you get a do-over, and with the homicide, you don't. If you lose a life, that life is gone. And I know what it's like. My family's been impacted personally. Mip cousin was killed last year. Adult male shot in the back of the head. Reporter: There have been 200 home sides in Baltimore this year. Most often the victim and the perpetrator are black. During our ride along, it didn't take long to come across our first murder scene of the night. A man shot to death at a gas station. Trying to get witness statements to find out what happened. Reporter: Not far away, another man shot in a park. The victim's brother showed up. We don't know right now. Reporter: Their voice is rarely heard on the national stage. Instead, they seethe in small community hearings. Here, a family grieving over a relative killed in police custody lashes out at the mayor and police chief. The anger, not over racial bias, but a perceived abuse of power. To a proud son of this city, the discourse is heartbreaking. And there is so much work to be done. But I see hope in the smallest of ways. Which is your house? I met dale. We graduated high school the same year. After a career in the military, he moved back home. What do you make of what's going on here? I like it. I think it's a long time coming. We worked hard on trying to get developers big and small. It's been very successful. I know some people still have misgivings about it. Reporter: But he proudly welcomes his newest neighbor. 37-year-old Shea fredrik is an engineer. He brought his house for $9,000. This is going to be a big master bedroom. Reporter: It's an investment that will help make change. This is likely a drug house. Probably took a good five gallon bucket of crack vials out of this house. I found a double barrel sawed off shotgun in the wall just back there. Reporter: In the wall? Usable? Ah -- rusty, but I imagine it could have been. Reporter: Like many corners of America, my hometown has its own troubled history with race sand justice. But there is a sense here things are improving. The racial divide still exists. Just not as wide. Nor as deep. For those who would say, there are deserts in Baltimore before you got here, there will be deserts when you leave. Hopefully when my time comes, it's a better police department serving the community in a better way and it will grow and the next person comes and they will build up on that foundation. Hopefully in the next 20, 30 years, I get to prove you wrong when we come back, you say, I don't think Baltimore can do this, I can say, your Baltimore, where you were born, has done this. Reporter: In Baltimore, I'm Byron Pitts for "Nightline."

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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