Monday, May 18, 2015

Baltimore paper gives voice to activists in coverage of riots

by Chuck Colbert

Mainstream print and broadcast media were all over the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American, an incident that wreaked havoc on Baltimore.  Arrested by police on April 12, Gray suffered spinal chord injuries in police custody while being transported to a trauma center. He developed a coma and died on April 19, with his death attributed to those injuries.

What ensued were first peaceful protests and marches against police action (Saturday, April 25) and then rioting and looting of businesses (Monday, April 27), all of which played out on national television.

As LGBT residents and businesses were affected by the turmoil, Baltimore OutLoud provided coverage by contacting local activists, particularly people of color, for their reaction to the unfortunate situation.

“Clearly, there is anger and frustration,” wrote Steve Charing in a 1,300-word piece. “Some prefer peaceful solutions; others are more militant.”

Here is a sampling of local reaction:

* Joel Tinsley-Hall, the first ever African-American executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB), told Baltimore OutLoud that Gray’s death “goes beyond police brutality.” He explained, “As far as the events since Mr. Gray’s death, I fully support the peaceful protests. Through peaceful means we can begin good conversations that will bring forth real solutions to address a broken system. A system that for too long has held in place lines of separation between various groups based on race, ethnicity, age, sexual identity, and orientation and the list goes on.

“I, of course, condemn those who brought violence to the streets of our city. That is not the path to healing our city and certainly does not do justice to the memory of Freddie Gray. The ‘thugs’ as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called them are bringing even greater harm. The result of their actions is a further marginalization of the very people and neighborhoods we need to be building up.”

* Carlton Smith, the executive director at the Center for Black Equity Baltimore and community leader at Moving Maryland Forward Network, told Baltimore OutLoud, “Peaceful demonstrations are a significant part of black history. I’m very devastated by the activities of this week and the media also reporting on riots. Especially, when there were peaceful protesters and marchers who participate in their civil rights movement. Baltimore is not Ferguson! All lives matter, especially black LGBTQ lives.

“Constantly, our lives go unnoticed because of who we love. Mia Henderson and so many other black trans individuals’ lives were taken by ruthless criminals and yet the black community didn’t even budge on her murder.

“The LGBTQ community still protests peacefully without tearing down the city. We are still waiting to hear about her murder. We must have communications with our civic leaders and community stakeholders to set the change we believe that needs to happen without riots. We are civil servants here to serve all of humanity.”

* Jabari Lyles, the co-chair and education manager for GLSEN Baltimore, a resident of Reservoir Hill near “ground zero” voiced anger. “I am sad, and I am also fed up,” he told Baltimore OutLoud.  “The problems that caused the civil unrest in Baltimore on Monday and last week are problems that have been facing our nation for centuries. I stand with anyone who is ready to address our deeply entrenched tradition of structural and systemic violence against black people in America.

“It is time for us as social justice advocates and activists, the ones who accurately interpret systemic oppression, to merge our movements, and realize that we are all up against the same wielding power and privilege that continues to limit the idea that we, minorities and allies alike, are secondary citizens fighting for benign causes.”

* Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland (EQMD) who has lived in Baltimore with her wife for 10 years, offered her perspective.

“What is happening in Baltimore, both the peaceful protests and the lawless behavior of some people, is a response to deep-seated systemic problems that many don’t want to hear about, let alone deal with,” she said. “A history of distrust and mistreatment between the Baltimore Police Department and the black community, a city with a history of deep divides between racial groups that still exists and is manifested in disturbing levels of residential segregation and a public education system that has been abandoned by many of the city’s non-black residents and a city with alarming rates of poverty and lack of opportunities for many of its residents.

“What we are seeing is our city and the people who call it home screaming out in pain to all of these realities. These realties will not change in a week, but all of us who live here will continue the fight to dismantle these realities. Our city and its leaders and residents are tenacious and while this is a very trying time for all of us, we will not be deterred from our commitment to our city and doing all that we can to change its realities.”

In a bizarre twist, however, Right Wing Watch, a project of People for the American Way, noted that U.S. Representative Bill Flores (R-Texas) suggested that same-sex marriage would lead to the breakdown of the family, with more single parent households leading to poverty and the climate that led to Baltimore’s riots.

On April 29, he said in an interview with Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, “Let’s talk about poverty, for instance. The single best indicator of whether or not a child is going to be in poverty or not is whether or not they were raised by a two-parent household or a single parent household, so the breakdown of the family has contributed to poverty. Look at what is going on in Baltimore today, you see the issues that are raised there. Healthy marriages are the ones between a man and a woman because they can have a healthy family and they can raise children in a way that’s best for their future, not only socially but psychologically, economically, from a health perspective. There is nothing like traditional marriage that does that for a child. Each of us have a mother and a father and there is no way to get around that.”

In the aftermath of the riots and peaceful demonstrations, six Baltimore policemen were charged with the death of Freddie Gray after the Baltimore State's Attorney's office ruled on May 1 that his death was a homicide.

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