What We’re Getting Wrong About Baltimore

By Natalie Keyssar

I got to Baltimore on Tuesday afternoon, 10 days after Freddie Gray died. On my way here, reports of rioting, violence, tear gas and clashes were all over the TV and radio.

But I walked to the corner of North Ave. and Pennsylvania in bright spring sunshine, amid jazz music, thoughtful conversations, dancing, and clapping.

Small children were everywhere underfoot. Words like justice, peace, and nonviolence were on everyone’s lips.

People helped to clean up the burned-out CVS on the corner. Speakers insisted on respect for the curfew, and condemned the chaos of the night before.

For about 23½ hours a day since I’ve been here, I’ve seen nothing but peaceful protest.

At the end of Tuesday night, over cries for calm and the best efforts of community organizers to keep the peace, a very small group of protesters threw some things — mostly plastic water bottles at police — and they eventually responded with rubber bullets and tear gas to clear the streets.

But I was honestly surprised they did, because at that point the media easily outnumbered protesters 3-to-1.

Turning on network news in my hotel room, I see the same loops of these brief moments of violence over and over, with the name of the city plastered across images of fire and mayhem.

Yes, these things happened. Yes, they are important. Yes, at night there has been a little bit of violence. And yes, it’s a response to violence — so violence is a big part of this story. And yes, that’s why the eyes of the world are on these issues, to a certain extent.

But mostly I’ve been photographing children holding flowers, women dancing and waving flags, church groups, young men with thought-provoking homemade signs, permitted marches, and a resounding insistence on calm from community leaders.

I have covered many protests, including in Ferguson last summer, and the response to Eric Garner’s death in New York City. I have never seen a protest movement where the community was so angry with the media.

At night, as we converge at North and Penn, waiting to see if violence will break out, community leaders beg for the media to go home. Furious protesters rage against parachute journalism, and ask why we’re spreading lies about them. Turning on the news, I can understand why.

A church group waves religious signs at a protest.

To me, these photos are what the Baltimore protests actually look like: a community that is taking a stand peacefully and gracefully, after a moment of protest-related violence. And what many here say is a lifetime of violence by the state.

Young men, some identified as a gang members, form a chain to keep the peace between police and protesters as a helicopter flies overhead.

Log in to Medium and “recommend” this story.
Follow Matter on Twitter | Like us on Facebook | Subscribe to our newsletter