By Kim Lyle and Shamaka Schumake
The peaceful and not-so-peaceful protests in Baltimore, Md., have sparked similar demonstrations in communities across the country, including right here in Baton Rouge.
Two peaceful events, one in LSU’s quad and the other on the steps of the Capitol, demonstrated solidarity with the struggle of Charm City for peace between the community and its law enforcement.
In The Quad at LSU
LSU students and faculty donned all black and stood in a tightly knit circle at the Quad’s center to demonstrate their unity with the protesters in Baltimore.
The special edition of Black Out Wednesday on April 29 came in response to the protests occurring after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old that died from a severed spine suffered while in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department.
“We’re not all rioters; anger is valid. Open your minds and try to see black people as humans,” was the powerful plea of Blair Imani Brown, a senior at LSU and an organizer of the event.
This request comes during a time when the heat on unfair treatment of ethnic minorities by police officers is quickly escalating across the country. If tensions were simmering during the events that followed what occurred in Ferguson, they are now boiling over in the aftermath of Gray’s death.
There have been both peaceful and non-peaceful protesting in the city of Baltimore, but it seems the majority of the media has focused its attention on the violent demonstrations.
“We are here to condone the peaceful protests going on in Baltimore right now,” explained John Lewis, a computer engineering senior at LSU. “They’re not exactly being covered by the news, but there are still people protesting peacefully to try and actually get something done about the situation.”
Some of Wednesday’s protesters expressed their frustration with the media’s blinders to the fact that there are peaceful demonstrations consuming the city as well.
“If you don’t cover the people that are just standing peacefully, it doesn’t paint an accurate picture,” explained Lewis. “Especially when they’re only showing people of color out there protesting, it makes it seem as if you’re trying to stereotype one group.”
Along with the media coverage come many judgments and assumptions made about the less peaceful protesting.
“That just feeds into the narrative that black people need to remain complacent, docile, and need to submit to the white supremacist society that we inhabit,” said Brown. “Black people are not granted the same humanity as whites, and it’s costing lives.”
Much of the dispute lies within how the media is approaching the issue. Brown feels that while the protests are a valid response to the situation, they have been misrepresented in the news.
“The fact that I’m continually asked by people interviewing us, ‘Do you support riots?’ just furthers the conceptualization that the society we live in ascribes to white supremacy and refuses to acknowledge that I’m not dangerous, that I’m equally intelligent, and that stands for the rest of the black community,” explained Brown.
Brown mentioned being empowered by those who are standing up for the community and stressed the importance of not dismissing the youth for being violent or unreasonable.
“There’s been a lot of acknowledgement of the fact that the United States was created through revolution, through riots,” said Brown. “It’s ridiculous that we as a society are able to grant humanity to people who are part of the dominant group, who are white, but we can’t grant that same understanding and humanity to people who are black.”
At the end of the day, Brown hopes for people of all races to recognize that there is a diverse range of personalities and morality that is not inherent to whiteness or blackness. Her beliefs are not anti-police nor pro violence, simply that America needs to stand up for the valid humanity of all people.
“We are not violent, we are people,” expressed Brown. “The police need to see black people not as enemies, but as humans.”
On the Steps of the Capitol
Over 100 people marched through downtown BR single file, chanting and singing for justice in the face of police brutality.
The procession, held on May 2, marched to the Capitol chanting “No Justice, no peace, no racist police.” After reaching the end of their march, the demonstrators began to rally on Capitol’s steps for Baltimore, for victims of police violence everywhere, and for the hope that one day things will change.
“I am here because I don’t want my sons or myself to be the next Trayvon or to be the next Eric Garner or Victor White,” said Dawn Collins, a political consultant and community advocate. “ [Each time] it hits me in the gut. I have glanced at news feeds of the Baltimore situation, but I couldn’t watch it the way I watched Ferguson or Eric Garner.”
Collins said that while what is happening in Baltimore has similarities to the Civil Rights movement of the ‘60s, there are fundamental differences.
“Some people made the comparisons, well-intentioned, of peaceful protest,” she said. “And yes, we should do peaceful protest, and they quote Dr. King. But we’re witnessing modern day lynchings right now. It’s not about the right to vote, or the right to eat in a particular restaurant; it’s about a right to breathe. And we watch that continuously be denied especially here in our home state. Again with Victor White, no criminal charges can even be brought because they have ruled what was obviously a homicide as a suicide. And so again it is personally painful. If something happens to my boys in this state, what would happen?
“The climate here is so hostile in many ways, and again which makes it that much more painful. And they wonder as to why sometimes the situation explodes and erupts. And that’s not to excuse bad actions or bad actors, but you can’t deny people being provoked.”
A major talking point for the protesters was contempt for the media coverage of the unrest in Baltimore and even Ferguson. Sarah Becker an Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies at Louisiana State University said that she is concerned the country isn’t getting the whole picture of what’s happening in Maryland.
“My main concern with the media coverage so far is that it doesn’t represent what happened on the ground first,” she said. “The stories you hear from the firsthand accounts of the families who were there, the students who were there, the community leaders who were there, even the rival gang members who came together right, to address this issue, indicate that these protest started out as a peaceful demonstrations, and as a means to really say something and come together and then the police intervening in an overly aggressive fashion is what contributed to all of the chaos.”
The name Victor White, the 22-year-old who according, to police committed suicide while restrained in the back of a police car, was brought up more than any other, even more than Freddie Gray, during the rally. His grieving father, Rev. Victor White Senior, turned activist was in attendance and said that he was here to stand in solidarity with the other families as they have stood in solidarity with him. However he did express frustration with the lack of media coverage of his son’s death.
“What is missing [from the media’s coverage] is Victor White III, he gets little coverage. I grieve with these other families and I support them, but what I want to know is why we aren’t covering Victor White III.”