Lone gone are the days of peaceful protesting guided by charismatic leaders in the United States. Recent protests over racial profiling and police brutality in the southern United States have been characterized by citizens rallying behind martyrs. A funeral drew thousands on April 27th, before a handful of mourners in Baltimore, Maryland loaded a casket carrying Freddie Gray’s body into a hearse. Freddie Gray, a twenty-five year old black man was arrested in Baltimore, Maryland. While he entered the police vehicle only handcuffed, he exited it with a severe spinal cord injury and a snapped neck. His injuries resulted in a coma and led to his death within a week. This heartbreaking event devastates not only Gray’s family and friends, but struck a cord in the hearts of thousands fighting to end our nation’s struggle with police brutality.
Although Gray’s family asked all of Baltimore to remain peaceful in respect for Freddie, the crowd of protesters turned to violence around three o’clock in the afternoon on April 27th. However, these riots were started as peaceful and moving works of art to protest the brutality demonstrated not only by Gray’s death, but also by many previous incidents of perceived police brutality throughout the U.S. Indeed, the first protestors were high school students who used social media to organize direct action in the face of injustice. However, some protesters started throwing rocks, bricks and other objects at police officers, buildings, and vehicles escalating the students’ message of change.
The riots have become more vicious than many previous protests, forcing Baltimore officials to call in the National Guard to stop the violence. Many buildings were looted and set on fire, while the streets turned into utter chaos. A large CVS Pharmacy was nearly burned to the ground before the police and more peaceful protesters sought to protect the building from further harm. Tear gas and other anti-riot methods used by the police injured many people caught in the chaos of the riots; many police officers were injured as well. When Governor Larry Hogan spoke with the Baltimore Sun he said, “I strongly condemn the actions of the offenders who are engaged in direct attacks against innocent civilians, businesses and law enforcement officers. There is a significant difference between protesting and violence and those committing these acts will be prosecuted under the fullest extent of the law.”
The events from Ferguson to Baltimore must be addressed immediately by our country. Actions like the protests following Gray’s funeral are a desperate plea for this nation to understand that the system is not working, and many people cannot feel safe or at home, even in a country that promised to protect liberty and justice for all. The riots of Baltimore, however violent, were met with violence from the police as well. Peace must be a two-way road and society’s efforts to protest injustice have gained a habit of turning violent. Using violence to try to change someone’s view is not effective; yet over the past year this has been the method both citizens and law enforcement have resorted to. Especially in the case of the situation in Baltimore, a strong youth subculture has emerged in defiance of the media’s primary portrayal of the violent aspects of the protest. Many are posting pictures and stories from Baltimore about protestors helping police forces, cleaning up after the crowds or dancing in the streets. While mainstream media is for the most part ignoring this aspect of the protests, it has emphasized the divide between the opinions of the older generations and the opinions of the young people who are trying to force change.
From Ferguson, to New York to Baltimore, the recents protests do not make up for the deaths that they mark. The protesters and police forces must learn to create sustainable and trusting relationships that are based on maintaining peace, not preparing for violence. Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh stated to the Baltimore sun, “The death of Freddie Gray was a tragedy. Perhaps it can lead us on a path toward progress. Violence, fires and looting will not get us there.” While the sheer number of voices crying out in response to Gray’s death make it hard to separate fact from fiction, a picture is worth a thousand words and the pictures from Baltimore tell the story of young people coming together to fight injustice.
by: Chloe Zehr and Katie Maxwell, News Editors