The following statement was posted on the Baltimore Fightback page on Facebook on April 29 by a group of students and activists from the Baltimore area. We think that the demands and proposals are very good and want to draw attention to it by circulating it further, including posting it on our website.
Freddie Gray’s death on April 19 is the latest episode of a long succession of racist killings by cops both in Baltimore and across the country.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement has given expression to the fury and discontent of oppressed black communities in the United States.
With the news of Gray’s brutal killing, thousands of Baltimoreans have spilled into the streets in outrage. After several days of peaceful protests, the Baltimore city government has begun to make mass arrests, to mobilize and deploy the repressive forces of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD), law enforcement from Mid-Atlantic region, Maryland State Troopers, and the National Guard as well as implementing a strict curfew, all with the intention of suppressing the uprising.
The world has turned its attention to Baltimore.
Elected officials, cops, and media are creating false distinctions between “peaceful protesters” who play by the rules and the “violent rioters” who have emerged in recent days, supposedly disrupting and bringing shame to the city.
The youth who have taken to the streets are being portrayed as thugs and looters with no rhyme or reason to their actions. The police even released a statement that gangs are unifying their forces to take the lives of police officers. These distortions are all attempts to dismiss the legitimate anger of Baltimore’s black communities and justify the repression.
The people confronting the police on Monday were high school students -- black youth from West Baltimore -- who are the main targets of police brutality and every day are made to suffer harassment, beatings, and humiliation. They are not different from the thousands who marched from West Baltimore to rally at city hall on April 25, to demand justice for Freddie Gray and an end to cop killings.
This movement has been spontaneous and mostly unplanned, with participation from majority black women and men of all ages. This uprising is not propelled by a conspiratorial plot and no organization has taken its helm. Meanwhile, there are leaders who are emerging as peace brokers between the establishment of power and the rebellious communities they claim to represent.
The historical leaders of the black community, like Jamal Bryant of the Empowerment Temple and Al Sharpton, are urging people to stay home and “stop the violence.” Their message of unconditional peace and their condemnation of the “violent protesters” create divisions and disorganize the movement. The patronizing calls for “peace” promote trust in the very institutions that perpetuate oppressive conditions.
Protesting youth are defying the call for calm and show that they have run out of patience. We stand with the youth in their departure from passive acceptance. At the same time, we do not endorse lootings or scattered confrontations with the police. If such actions are taken by isolated groups instead of a mass mobilization, the most likely result will be a backlash of state repression: lock-ups and prosecutions targeting the most mobilized. This will be harmful to activism and discourage people from participating.
The only way for this movement to advance is to leave behind co-opted leaders, rely on our own mobilization power, and fight shoulder-to-shoulder with the #BlackLivesMatter movement across the country.
With Freddie Gray’s death, Baltimore’s streets have become the stage of convergence for #BlackLivesMatter. Activists from Ferguson, Charleston, DC, NYC, and Philadelphia have joined the actions. Although there has been a concerted effort to discredit these protestors and label them as “outside agitators,” we should welcome them. They, too, seek vindication and justice for Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley and countless others. Their fight is also ours.