People Are Protesting In Baltimore, The Rest Of Us Are On Facebook
Last weekend, I celebrated my 24th birthday with bottomless mimosas and vintage store shopping sprees and a 25-year-old black man named Freddie Gray died for no good reason. I didn’t know that he died until the following Wednesday, when my Instagram feed popped off with posts of black and white Civil Rights imagery, and photos of protests and captions that hashtagged “Baltimore”. Some of us might be patrolling the news at each hour, trying to understand the chaos that is West Baltimore, where police are releasing pepper-spray balls into crowds of protesters, while 15 buildings and 144 cars have been set on fire. Most of us are probably not doing that. Most of us have probably figured these things out via social media, where all of our “friends”, for the third time this year, have developed opinions about black lives. I consider myself a fairly conscious person, but I also have a job, my own problems, and not to mention, a 24th birthday to celebrate. I took most of the facts for this piece from a New York Times article that I’ve just now read, titled, “Crowds Scatter as Baltimore Curfew Takes Hold”. I have no problem with finding out my news through Facebook. It’s a great way to understand the general temperature of political interest. During the summer, after the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, when my newsfeed was stupidly saturated with politically charged posts, I could notice that most of the white people I know would post “#AllLivesMatter” and most of the black people I know post “BlackLivesMatter”. That’s the kind of thing you can see on Facebook.
When I did finally get the late-ass memo that Freddie Gray was dead, I was jarred by a status posted by a friend’s sibling living in Baltimore that reads, “Disgusted with what is happening in Baltimore. These are CRIMINALS not protestors! Stay safe Baltimore”. Following the events after Freddie Gray’s death, it seems the most controversial question is not why Freddie Gray died, or what should happen to the policemen responsible for his safety in the 45 minutes that he spent in police custody, the time in which it took for Gray to suffer a spinal cord injury that would lead to his death a week later. Instead, the question concerns the validity of the public reaction. Obama said, of the rioters, “They’re not protesting, they’re stealing.” On Facebook, someone I know posts, “I’m sorry are you telling me the lives of people aren’t worth more than property or physical materials? Kill yourself #baltimoreriots”. Parallels have been drawn to riots that took place during the Civil Rights movement, specifically those in Baltimore after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. I wonder—as I often do when the media chooses focuses on one specific aspect of a controversial event and blows it out of proportion—about the purpose of reporting specifically on the violence of the protestors. I see the protests in Baltimore as a desperate response to an issue that has yet to be dealt with, that is: if you’re a black guy in America, and you see a cop, you’d better run. Or don’t—either way, there’s an entirely too real chance that you’ll be killed. The people rioting, as in, the (mostly) black citizens of Baltimore, along with those in Ferguson this summer, have probably been labeled criminal long before they took to the streets for this event. Eric Garner’s death in Staten Island was a little different, primarily due to location. It’s New York—lots of people in attendance at the Eric Garner protests are people who might not be directly affected by the issue of police brutality.
It’s difficult to make things matter when they don’t directly affect you. I’m genuinely more inclined to read “Who Needs An Urn When You Can Put Ashes In A Dildo Instead?” than to really try to imagine what it must be like to live in a neighborhood—a country—that shows constant disregard for the value of my life. I’m pretty sure that nothing I’m doing with my life is making any difference for the African-American girls and boys in my extended community. Should I post on Facebook about it? Who wants to hear what I have to say? Shut up, I want to cyber-scream at my Facebook friends, Shut up, shut up, shut up! None of you get the point of any of this! And none of you are spelling “protesters” correctly! But do I have anything to contribute to the point of any of this? I don’t know, and I don’t have the energy to read any Jezebel article that might address this question. This is just a little piece of writing to commemorate a weekend where I partied, Freddie died, and the internet freaked out. Freddie Gray died, and we want to say something, because we want it to mean something. I’m sorry, Freddie. Tomorrow, I’ll find some time to skim articles on the hypocrisy of American media and the systemic state-sanctioned violence that impoverished communities experience every day. Tonight, I’ll scroll through my Facebook newsfeed and imagine that each status filled with run-on sentences is a candle lit in celebration of the next birthday Freddie Gray should have had.
Images courtesy of Blavity