I have never taken an interest in reading the newspaper or watching the news on television. In today’s world it is too easy to learn about local and world events and scandals through social media. The closest I’ll come to reading the news is going online to Buzzfeed (which, although provides accurate news, is another form of social media). However, this was not the case when protests erupted in Baltimore this past April.
These protests, in the streets of west Baltimore, were in response to the death of an African American male—Freddie Gray. Like similar stories that have been recognized around the country, the injuries that lead to Mr. Gray’s death were sustained while he was in police custody. When the details of Mr. Gray’s death were released, the people of west Baltimore clashed with the police. Police cars were destroyed, windows were smashed, building and cars were set on fire, stores were looted and many were injured. These people sought justice for Freddie Gray and their public outcry emphasized the distrust felt between the people of the community and the police.
One often hears of violent riots and protests happening in countries where corrupt leaders oppress their people. But never did I think that there would be violent and destructive riots in the place where I would call my home for my four years of college.
During the riots, every student’s eyes, including mine, were glued to the television watching the events in downtown and west Baltimore unfold. Suddenly, watching and reading the news became my number one priority. It was almost surreal that this was happening just a few miles away from my university. My friends and I were constantly concerned with news updates –whether or not there would be protests that day or night or if the protesters were making their way towards us. We watched the news as Baltimore’s governor declared a state of emergency, allowing the National Guard to address the unrest in Baltimore City. My university sent out updates and warnings telling us students to be safe and only leave campus if we really had to. We all had to adhere to the citywide curfew and even our finals schedule was altered to ensure that everyone returned home before that curfew.
Never once during this time did I feel that I was in danger or that changes to my schedule were anything but minor. What really concerned me was the cause of all the uproar—Mr. Gray’s unwarranted death. How could the life of a human being be so disregarded? Despite his previous crimes, mistakes, race, gender, Mr. Gray still had intrinsic dignity and his life still had value. How could individuals who are supposed to protect life and promote safety, instead, forcibly take a life away? Many other questions raced through my mind and sparked some intense conversations among my friends and I. At the same time, I also understood that the destructive and violent actions that resulted from Mr. Gray’s death were not the appropriate response. These actions also failed to recognized the dignity of the police officers injured in the riots and those whose houses and livelihoods were destroyed. They also eclipsed the peaceful protests and efforts of those in the community who recognized that violence will not bring change or trust back into the community.
I think we all know that the news does a fine job of highlighting misfortune, violence and death in our world. But sometimes something as simple as recognizing the humanity of another person can make a difference. We all must strive to ensure that the intrinsic and inalienable dignity of each individual is acknowledged and respected. We must work peacefully and in solidarity with one another to improve the world we live in. The occurrence of a tragic event should not be the reason for this to be understood.
Written by Kristyn Rooney, a student from Loyola University Maryland and a current WYA intern in New York City.