“You Can Replace Property, You Can’t Replace a Life”: Voices of the Unheard in the Baltimore Streets
Aaron Maté, Democracy Now!producer.
Democracy Now! reports from the streets of Baltimore, where an overnight curfew has taken effect following Monday’s riots sparked by the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old African-American man who died of neck injuries suffered in police custody. Tuesday night, police in riot gear fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters who defied the curfew when it began at 10 p.m. At least 10 people were arrested. But overall, the Baltimore Police Department declared “the city is stable.” Thousands of forces, including National Guard troops, have deployed throughout the city streets. Monday’s unrest led to more than 200 arrests, dozens of cars set on fire, and many buildings badly damaged. Democracy Now!’s Aaron Maté and videographer Hany Massoud speak with locals as they take part in both the clean-up effort and the continued protests over Freddie Gray’s death.
AMY GOODMAN: As we broadcast from the World Forum in The Hague, we begin, though, today’s show in Baltimore, where an overnight curfew has taken effect following Monday’s riots sparked by the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old African-American man who died of neck injuries suffered in police custody. Last night, Maryland police in riot gear fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters who defied the curfew when it began at 10:00 p.m. At least 10 people were arrested. But overall, the Baltimore Police Department declared, quote, “the city is stable.”
On Tuesday, thousands of forces, including National Guard troops, were deployed throughout Baltimore streets as residents took stock of the damage from Monday’s unrest, which led to more than 200 arrests, dozens of cars set on fire, and many buildings badly damaged. Democracy Now!‘s Aaron Maté was in Baltimore to speak with locals as they took part in both the clean-up effort and the continued protests over Freddie Gray’s death.
AARON MATÉ: We’re at the corner of Penn and North, just a few blocks from where Freddie Gray was [arrested]. It’s one day after the uprisings left a trail of damage and a few dozen arrests. We’re here on the front line of the protest zone. There’s a large police contingent here. Behind them, some armored trucks and other vehicles. In front of the police, though, there’s another line of residents who are standing guard, and we’re going to talk to some of the people who are here.
AARON MATÉ: Can you tell us your name and what’s going on here?
KEVIN: My name’s Kevin, and we’re just standing here to make sure that we maintain peace.
AARON MATÉ: And how did this get organized?
KEVIN: Just volunteers from the neighborhood just stepped up to the line. I mean, this is our city. I’m not going to sit back and watch my city burn down and not do nothing, even if I just have to stand here and just make sure that, you know, we maintain peace, and no one on this side gets hurt and no one on that side gets hurt, the police and ourself.
AARON MATÉ: What is the mood like here today?
KEVIN: So far, so good. I mean, tensions is rising. It’s been peaceful for the most part of the day, but I don’t know, you know? So we’re going to just try to maintain it ’til the curfew. The curfew starts at 10:00. Hopefully things remain peaceful until then.
KANE MAYFIELD: My name’s Kane Mayfield. The only people who have been getting this story right so far have been the Baltimore City Paper. It’s been mischaracterized pretty much by mainstream sensationalists who come down here to soak up the angel dust of civil unrest and sell it to white America. It’s fun. I get it. You know? Look at them. Black rage. It’s nice. But it’s not, because when all y’all leave and all these cameras turn off and, you know, the stories about garbage bags from people ain’t fun no more, we’re still going to be here with the same problems. The only difference between Freddie and—what was it? Tyrone?
UNIDENTIFIED: Tyrone West.
KANE MAYFIELD: Tyrone West. The only difference is camera footage. They’re like, “Well, why are y’all so mad?” Well, the only time y’all care is when someone get it on camera. That’s why people are mad. These situations happen over and over and over again. And if we don’t have the kind of proof that the mainstream media wants, we’re told to shut up and shut our mouths and go about our business, stop complaining. You know? And then people are tired of that. And if you can’t understand why people are tired of that, it’s un-American. Then you don’t understand why George Washington was tired of that. You don’t understand why no taxation without representation, they were tired of that. People are tired. You get enough people together who are tired, something’s going to happen. You may not like what happens, but something’s going to happen. And I’m not going to apologize to anybody for it. But I will help to make sure my city doesn’t burn down.
UNIDENTIFIED: That’s the part that nobody’s talking. They’re not talking about the rec centers that have been closed down. They’re not talking about the youth programs that are struggling for funding. But you build a couple-million-dollar casino downtown. You build million-dollar hotels downtown. But you shut down the rec centers. You shut down the schools. You shut down summer programs. You know what I’m saying? And then you go, “Oh, look at these animals running wild.” Well, they’re angry. What do you expect them to do? We’ve been out here trying to calm them down as much as we can, as mentors and hip-hop artists in the community that have a message. But it’s only so much you can do before the levee breaks.
AARON MATÉ: And now the community has gathered for a spontaneous rally here. It’s a festive scene. There’s a band playing over here. People are milling about in conversation and also, with cleaning supplies, trying to clean up some of the mess that was left after yesterday’s protests.
So right here is the CVS pharmacy at the intersection of Penn and North that was looted yesterday. And it’s still accessible, and people are still actually coming in and out, as we see here. There’s a very strong smell of ash and soot. And you can see here some heavy damage that was sustained. People are now cleaning up.
Hey, could you tell us what’s going on?
VOLUNTEER 1: Right now, we’re try to clean out all this chaos right here and make sure we can at least help our community out by doing something to help, by cleaning this stuff out of here. So…
AARON MATÉ: How did this get organized?
VOLUNTEER 1: I don’t know. I just came out. I saw some things on Facebook. I just wanted to come help the community. So, it was about word of mouth for me. That’s how I came out here.
AARON MATÉ: And so, what have you guys been doing?
VOLUNTEER 1: Just pushing this stuff, cleaning out the shelves, pushing it forward, so maybe we can get a dumpster and maybe a bulk trash to come, and we can get all this stuff out of here later. Like shovel and manpower. We need some more manpower, if you’re watching, to help out, to come down here.
AARON MATÉ: This store was torched on Monday, and now we’re here looking at the aftermath. There’s debris and soot and sludge all over the floor, a very strong, overpowering smell of ash and smoke, remnants from the fire. And local residents are here now trying to clean up the mess. And we’re going to talk to them and hear why they’ve come down.
When you did you get down here?
VOLUNTEER 2: I’ve been down here since 1:00. One, yeah.
AARON MATÉ: And what have you been doing?
VOLUNTEER 2: Just helping cleaning, organizing, putting trash bags where they need to be at. And it’s just a sad day right now. It’s unbelievable.
AARON MATÉ: How do you feel about what happened yesterday?
VOLUNTEER 2: There’s no words for that. There’s no words for that. It was sad. You’re destroying our community.You know, people don’t have a pharmacy now. They probably got to go somewhere else to get, you know, their prescription. Who knows how far that might be, far away that might be? But, well, what can you do?
AARON MATÉ: Are you encouraged to see people coming out to help clean up?
VOLUNTEER 2: Yes, I am. Please do.
VOLUNTEER 3: And we just want to help clean up, get our community back in order. And basically, hopefully, everything will work out for us.
AARON MATÉ: So tell us about your day and how things are organized here. Is there someone leading this effort?
VOLUNTEER 3: I just walked in. I was like, “Hey, do you guys have any extra gloves?” They’re like, “Yeah, grab a pair.” And honestly, people are just coming in and out, helping out. There’s really no organization. It’s just really just a bunch of people that care.
AARON MATÉ: What do you want to see happen in the coming days?
VOLUNTEER 3: Well, I do want to see a conviction, and I do want to see, well, obviously, less violence, because I don’t want to see Baltimore go up in flames. Like, that’s one think I don’t like. I’ve been—I lived in Maryland like all my life. I’m 21 years. I love this city. I love this whole state. And it’s just a—it’s just a shame seeing a place that you knew so much as a kid on national TV, and you’re explaining to your friends who live like out of state, “Yeah, I’m sorry, guys, like that’s just how it is now. Like, times are tough. People are getting killed.” It’s just really hard out here, man. And, like, people don’t really understand it. But it’s just—it’s just tough.
AARON MATÉ: Hi.
MIRIAM: My name’s Miriam.
AARON MATÉ: Hi, Miriam. So talk to us about what you’re doing here.
MIRIAM: Well, we just came down here to clean up the CVS, to just clean up the area, after what has happened, just to help with the efforts of everything. If we’re going to take back our community, the first thing that we have to do, I feel, is clean the community. And we just want peace in our community. I mean, we need some civil unrest to get it. Sometimes that happens. But in the end, after all that, the hope is that we just have some justice.
I think the anger is very much justified. I mean, people are going to be angry. Like I’ve heard many times before and I’ve read, a riot is just the voice of the unheard. So you can’t tell people how to feel. They’re going to feel angry. And as a result of being unheard and being frustrated, things happen. And this is the result of one thing happening. Yes, property is damaged, but that’s—I feel like you can replace property. You can’t replace a life.
AARON MATÉ: Here with a volunteer who doesn’t want to be on camera, doesn’t want to give her name, but does want to share her thoughts on what’s happening.
VOLUNTEER 4: I do. I’m here with my friends. I’m not cleaning. I don’t want to help to clean up, because I’m the mother of a 12-year-old young black male, and that could have easily been my son that was murdered by the police. So I’m not cleaning up. You got the media’s attention by burning things down in the city, and, unfortunately, for every action, there’s a reaction. And here’s the reaction, and this is what you have to deal with. So, if and when it happens again, then this may happen again. And that’s what it is.
AARON MATÉ: So when you say you don’t want to clean up, this is a—
VOLUNTEER 4: I’m not cleaning.
AARON MATÉ: When you say you’re not cleaning, is that a way of saying that this kind of had to happen for anything to change?
VOLUNTEER 4: Unfortunately, yes, because if we protest peacefully—you know, how many black males were hurt after we protested peacefully for Trayvon Martin? You know, it still happened. This is not the first murder. This is not going to be the last murder. It’s going to happen again. But now we have their attention. Now there’s a state of emergency. So, you know, if this has to happen for them to get a clue, then it has to happen.
PROTESTERS: We want peace! We want peace!
AARON MATÉ: The crowd is now breaking out into a march, starting to walk away, chanting “We want peace.”
PROTESTERS: We want peace! We want peace! We want peace! We want peace!
AARON MATÉ: Can you talk about what’s happening right now?
PROTESTER 1: Pretty much, the community is just angry and upset about what’s been going on. And we’d also like to shed light on the peaceful protesters and let everybody know that Baltimore stands for something more than violence, that we’re bigger than that, and we’d like to bring people together. And as you can see, we want peace in our communities and in our streets. That’s pretty much it. I’m sorry. We want peace!
RESIDENT: Now, this, this is it. This is how you do that. But all the looting and all of that, I don’t think that had anything to do with that man. He was a peaceful man. He would never go around busting windows and looting out of stores. So, yes, as long as they have someone that’s leading these people in a positive way, it’s going to work.
AARON MATÉ: The marchers have arrived at a park just a few blocks away from the North and Penn intersection where it began.
RALLY SPEAKER: Regardless of the outcome, we’re going to get justice eventually. We’ve got to be patient with the process. But we can’t turn on each other. We can’t tear our community down, because at the end of the day, we need those facilities. We need those restaurants and those barbershops and those outlets. So, if we believe in each other and we believe in the chant that we love Baltimore, we’ve got to show that every single day—not just last night, not tonight, every single day. Because, believe me, change is going to come. We’re tired. We’re frustrated. But we can’t do what we did last night. They took the attention off where we really need it, and we gave them what they really wanted. Let’s put it back on our real issues. We’re going to get some answers. We’re going to get our answers.
TANAY THROWER: I’m Tanay Thrower [phon.]. Through the frustration of what happened and not being able to get an answer, I guess, so get the response that the community wanted, that that just allowed—made everyone explode. And not everybody in our community knows how to deal with frustration and know how to explode. And part of that reason that no one knows is because of the lack of resources. The lack of health resources, the lack of mental health resources, the lack of a education system, the lack of being able to have support and the right resources in the schools to help the teachers be able to give their students, or support their families or support the nonprofits or support the different people in the community. So, this is just the screen of it all.
AARON MATÉ: So we’re here with?
AARON MATÉ: Hi, Queen. And your daughter?
AARON MATÉ: And your thoughts today, one day after the uprisings, people coming together today in West Baltimore?
QUEEN: Baltimore loves Baltimore. Get that straight. You know, Baltimore is pulling together. I think this—you know, again, I say this event has transpired a new unity in the city. And we’ll—you know, we’ll go from there, try to, piece by piece, put the city back together, and it’s going to be even stronger. No more Freddie Grays. And, you know, let that be a symbol to us, that he came for a purpose, and his purpose was to wake us up and bring us together. You know, no more fighting each other. No more anything, just coming—you know, coming against each other. Just come together. Some things had to fall apart to fall together.
AARON MATÉ: The sun has set on West Baltimore, and we’re now approaching the 10:00 p.m. curfew that was imposed after Monday’s unrest. As we saw today, it was a very different scene from the cleanup crews inside the CVS pharmacy to the spontaneous march, people chanting, “I love Baltimore,” a sense here of people trying to reclaim the spirit that we saw in the first few weeks after Freddie Gray’s death—peaceful protests, marches, organizing, trying to seek justice in the case of Freddie Gray and address the structural issues around police brutality that it’s raised.
PROTESTER 2: This young youth don’t know how to express their self through education, because they’ve not been educated. They express their self through violence.
PROTESTER 3: Y’all take away our schools, our rec systems, our public systems, everything that you’ll take away. Y’all shut the—y’all shut the—
AARON MATÉ: Wait. Talk about that.
PROTESTER 3: Y’all shut the bus system down the hour before [bleep] even [bleep] happened. Excuse my language, but y’all shut the system down before, an hour, it happened. How these kids supposed to go home? How y’all going to get these kids home? They had nothing but to be out here and a nuisance—
PROTESTER 4: They’re stuck here.
PROTESTER 3: —because we don’t have—they don’t have no way to get home. They see this as a riot.
PROTESTER 2: Exactly. They don’t know. They don’t know. They don’t know.
PROTESTER 3: You know what I’m saying? They see this, they don’t know what’s happening. All they know is what they’re used to seeing on TV: getting shot by police, getting gunned down by police. Who wants to go home and get gunned down by police when you’re just trying to get home?
PROTESTER 2: Exactly.
PROTESTER 3: And we can’t stand up. We can’t stand up for our lives.
PROTESTER 2: Tell them again.
PROTESTER 3: We can’t stand up for our lives. Our lives don’t mean nothing. We can’t stand up for it, because it doesn’t mean nothing to them. You get what I’m saying? And they’re out here not even doing nothing, not even putting a school in our district. You get what I’m saying?
PROTESTER 2: They’re putting a police station in our district.
PROTESTER 3: Lock more people up, but won’t even put a school for our kids to learn.
PROTESTER 2: So we can calm all this down.
PROTESTER 3: And this could have been any one of us.
PROTESTER 5: And the bad always overpowers the good. You see what I’m saying? Like the riot was right here, but people was down there marching peacefully. You see what I’m saying? And this is what I want to make a statement on, you see what I’m saying? You see how police standing over there, they’re doing their job, right? You see what I’m saying? Now, when the bad police do what they do, I feel like good cops should speak up. You see what I’m saying? Say something. You see what I’m saying? Because it makes you look bad, too.
PROTESTER 4: The police move like a gang. They kill one of us, but the next one who’s seen it—
PROTESTER 3: They don’t say nothing. They’re not going to say anything.
PROTESTER 4: —he’s not going to speak up, because why? He works with the next man.
PROTESTER 3: We don’t feel safe walking around our neighborhood if we see a police officer, because we feel like we’re going to get shot. We’re going to get questioned. We can’t walk down the street, because we’re going to get questioned. We’re going to get shot. We’re going to get task-forced. Look at this. This is crazy. All we want is answers, and we can’t get nothing.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Democracy Now!’s Aaron Maté reporting from the streets of Baltimore, Maryland. Special thanks to our videographer, Hany Massoud, who leaps tall buildings in a single bound.