On the same day Freddie Gray was buried, some students spent the morning making signs. Using paper and markers from their teachers, they wrote messages of love and of comfort. “We love you Freddie G. RIP.” That evening the streets were on fire, and if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was right – “A riot is the language of the unheard”, then some of the young people of Charm City had found a voice for hurts so deep that they have no name.
I’ve taught in Baltimore schools for more than 15 years. I teach art and art history at Francis M. Wood Alternative High School. For so long these neighborhoods have been islands of economic distress. Too many young people feel abandoned, left behind like the rows of boarded-up houses that line the streets. There are corner stores, bars and carryout joints, but no grocery. Who can live off chips, soda and candy? Some kids are trying.
Many are trying, too, to live beyond “Ova East and West,” which is how the kids describe the divide. Here playgrounds are littered with hypodermic needles, areas are under constant surveillance and police stop young men routinely. Still, getting dead is easy, whether at the hands of a neighborhood knucklehead, or an officer who patrols as if in occupied territory.
When a student says, “We know we mess up sometimes but why they got to kill us?” I hear the pain beneath the protests. I also witness the determination. They come to school inspite of real-life obstacles. Older siblings make sure younger ones are safe. One of my best students was a young woman who lived in a car with her own child. Suddenly, with Gray’s death, we’re in the civics lesson of a lifetime.
There was jubilation after six officers were indicted. But an indictment isn’t a conviction. And if there are no convictions, then what? These children have learned early that they’re valued less. One way or another, they will fight for dignity and survival. They will endure. The question is what will we teach them now?
A child observes the early evening choas on North and Pennsylvania Avenues during a day of rioting.
A young protestor prepares for a fight.
Near the corner of Fulton and Pennsylvania Avenues.
Baltimore activist Joseph Kent attempts to calm the storm.
A tumultuous scene of unrest on Monday May 4, 2015.
A family tries to buy food from a corner store on the first day of the citywide curfew. The cloudy sky above North Ave. and Carey St.
The corner of Pennsylvania and North Avenues after six Baltimore police officers were hit with charges.
An evening of solidarity.
Photographs by Anthony McKissic