Baltimore musicians on media, power, racism, and the uprising

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Freddie Gray Precinct Protest, from Wikimedia Commons.

Last week and this week our thoughts have been with Baltimore. Beyond the riot-shaming of mainstream narratives, social media has been a worthwhile source of updates regarding Freddie Grey’s death, the resulting protests, actions, solidarity demonstrations, community fundraisers and cleanup efforts, and the emotional and psychic impact on people on the ground, whether they’re seeing their daily experiences finally manifest on a larger scale, or experiencing the realities of state-sanctioned violence for the first time.

The curfew was lifted on Sunday and the police officers involved in the murder have been indicted, causing the narrative to shift to one of resolution. As the action dies down, media attention pulls out of the city, but the reality is never that neat. An indictment is not the same thing as a conviction. Officers responsible for the shooting death of Mya Hall have not been charged and no newsworthy protests have been held in her name. There are still many protesters being held in Baltimore’s overcrowded jail, many on unusually high bail. Further, the structural issues that led to this past week remain in place. There is no shortage of organizing to be done and ongoing developments to follow, both in Baltimore, and in every city in America. For further reading, check out this amazing anonymously compiled “syllabus” of writings that put the situation in context, and consider donating to the Baltimore Bail & Legal Support Fund, the No Boundaries Coalition, the Baltimore Algebra Project, and the Maryland Food Bank.

We asked our favorite Baltimore musicians who have been discussing the events on social media to weigh in on the situation and share some of their experiences.

ABDU ALI

There were plenty events that took place that revealed the love, the unity, and peace within the Black communities in Baltimore.

This past week I realized the beauty of Black Baltimore, which wasn’t spotlighted by mainstream media. The mainstream media painted us as thugs and no-good-doers which made me realize that as people of color, we need to take control of our own image (once again) and create independent publications and broadcasting programs. There were plenty events that took place that revealed the love, the unity, and peace within the Black communities in Baltimore. Despite the shade and oppression of white supremacy and classism that strikes at people of color in this city, we still prevail and aspire to conquer. I hope this kind of beauty continues and grows stronger. 

BABY AL

We are discriminated against every day in my city. It’s systematic racism. No matter what you represent you will experience it somehow.

It’s a revolution. Last Tuesday, I received the news my brother was locked up after the weekend’s looting. Although he wasn’t a part of it, he was harassed, beat, and arrested. They broke his ribs and didn’t give him medical attention until a day after being in there. A petition was signed on Wednesday morning for him and other prisoners to be set free. We are discriminated against every day in my city. It’s systematic racism. No matter what you represent you will experience it somehow.

You’ve got these news reporters, pretentious religious leaders, and media personalities in the hood being straight opportunist — only looking to get a good story and not a solution. Last week David Blaine was out here doing magic tricks with a camera crew, fuck him! I personally watched them turn peaceful days into something completely different in the media. I’m not saying everything is peaches and cream, I am saying things have been bent a bit to fit FOX, CNN, and whoever else’s agenda.

We are FED UP. If you’re an outsider we don’t need any opinions unless you’re helping towards a solution. Our struggles stem from how divided our city is. We understand the struggle of Freddie Gray and the area he comes from.

JANA HUNTER

I believed but didn’t fully register the surreal horror or ethical implications of the mainstream media’s complete rewrite of the demonstrations and police response.

On April 28, Lower Dens wrote this in a Facebook status:

“We love Baltimore. Please get info from our city’s local sources and ignore the racist narratives perpetuated by mainstream news. News organizations like the Baltimore City Paper and the Baltimore Sun, as well as social justice organizations like Baltimore Bloc and BCC Bloc, are the best sources of information for this situation. All network and national news sources are full of lies and omission.

This is a complex and unique city. Nobody knows it like the people that live here. If you wanna learn more, consider starting here: http://www.theatlantic.com/…/nonviolence-as-complia…/391640/
If you want to help support those organizing to get justice for Freddie Gray, you can do so here:
https://www.crowdrise.com/legalbailsupportforba…/…/tremurphy
‪ #‎FreddieGray‬ ‪#‎BaltimoreUprising‬ ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬”

This was the most important thing I felt like I/we could contribute — especially in the initial days of what I hope is only the beginning of the Baltimore Uprising. I hope for a new awareness in the greater American public of the need for justice for black people and the extent to which the government and media will distort the truth.

I had friends involved and followed other local, community organizers via social media when the Ferguson community responded to the police killing of Michael Brown. I believed but didn’t fully register the surreal horror or ethical implications of the mainstream media’s complete rewrite of the demonstrations and police response. Having been at some of the Baltimore demonstrations following Freddie Gray’s murder, I saw for the first time and with some clarity the disconnect between truth of the events and the narrative constructed by the mainstream media. The effect is nauseating. In a society where the truth is so effectively obscured from its citizenry, being confronted with what poor black people are faced with in Baltimore and elsewhere in this country should be shaking the rest of us to our core, but instead those same people are often literally demonized. It is a harrowing state of affairs.

SOFT CAT

Not only did the major news networks completely destroy any credibility the past week and a half of peaceful protests, but also all sorts of racist trolls came out of the woodwork.

On Wednesday April 29th I began a journal of my experience with the Baltimore Uprising dating back to Saturday April 25th. Since the 29th, so much has happened: the charging of 6 officers in Freddie Gray’s homicide, the announcement of a DOJ investigation into police brutality in the BCPD, an impressive amount of journalistic accounts of the history and root causes of the uprising; a larger awareness of Baltimore’s massive inequality, and a slight changing of rhetoric among mainstream media’s coverage of these events. I feel nothing but humbled and overwhelmed by the amount of pride I see in Baltimore. The solid week and a half of thousands and thousands of protesters filling the streets demanding justice, and the general consciousness shift I see happening among the residents of this city. Here is an excerpt from that journal:

Monday: I woke up for work, and by noon had already heard reports of the Crips and Blood’s vow to kill off police. Something sounded very off to me, mostly because I had heard this news on our local NPR station, which I ultimately do not trust. And here is what I very much want to emphasize – the timeline. The suspiciousness of it all comes way too close to a conspiracy theory, but when other people I talked to (including students I’ve talked with) corroborated my thoughts, I couldn’t help but feel that this whole thing was staged. And here’s how it goes from what I’ve gathered from talking with students and hearing their voices:

1.Media announcement that Crips/Bloods/Black Guerilla Family vow to kill off police. Gangs later confirmed they never made that statement
2. Rumors circulate about a “purge” started on social media, but cannot be accurately traced back to a source.
3. City buses, subways and all reliable transportation are shut down or rerouted from West Baltimore neighborhoods.
4. Most students not notified by the school systems of any disruptions of transportation, except for by family or social media. Principals and city officials gave no word to students about shutdowns.
5. School gets out and students are left to find their own ways of getting back home. On some accounts, police forcefully required bus drivers to stop and unload what students they did have on the bus.
6. Students are faced with hundreds of police in riot gear waiting for them to make a move, still with no alternative ways of getting home.
7. Taunted by police, a few angry students, with decades of built up anger and hopelessness pervading every aspect of their lives, decide to throw a few rocks. Police throw rocks back.
8. Things escalate from 1 to 10 and immediately the images of burning Cop cars and looters are played on every major media network on loop for the rest of the night.
9. Baltimore is placed under a strict citywide curfew for the following week, and students are called “thugs” once again by the Mayor.
10. The immense respect paid for Freddie Gray’s funeral that same day is quickly forgotten.

Much like everyone else I knew, we were all glued to our social media outlets in some Baudrillard-esqe spectacle. I could feel everyone’s hearts collectively stabbed in Baltimore. Not only did the major news networks completely destroy any credibility the past week and a half of peaceful protests, but also all sorts of racist trolls came out of the woodwork. I was busy tweeting up a storm, retweeting as many other voices on the streets as I could, yelling at the BCPD online, and letting friends on FB from far away know what was actually going on.”

The full journal is here.

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