University of Maryland students reflect on racial tensions at town hall meeting

by AMBER EBANKS

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Lamontre Randall (center) with members of the panel. (Amber Ebanks/Pulsefeedz)

Baltimore native and public speaker Lamontre Randall planned a town hall meeting which occurred late Wednesday night so that “Maryland students could meet with the real of Baltimore, the people that are really doing something.”

Members of the panel included Astrid Diaz, the Public Relations Chair for PLUMAS (The Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society), Kondwani Fidel, a Baltimore poet and Virginia State University alumnus and other various community grassroots leaders.

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Kondwani Fidel performs two spoken word pieces at the town hall meeting on Wednesday. (Amber Ebanks/Pulsefeedz)

“I think the uprisings woke up the Black community and I think everyone recognized the system for what it is,” said Randall. “The uprisings were great because it was about the young people for once. We hear the older people talk all the time, they talk, but they don’t listen. It actually took some people putting in action for people to say hey something’s going on, let’s figure out what’s going on.”

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Members of the panel take questions from the audience. (Amber Ebanks/Pulsefeedz)

After graduating from the University of Maryland last May, Randall founded BMore Clean, a new initative to help the citizens of Baltimore. Randall believes that there are many things that led to the uprisings, such as lead paint and abandoned homes.

Many people, including Randall, believe that social media has been a valuable tool for people interested in the uprisings.

“It’s a difference between, and our generation is trying to find a balance, a social media activist and a social activist. We need to have people programming their mind that being a social media activist is not the same as being a social activist. Being a social media activist makes you comfortable and it makes it seem like oh, I just retweeted this I can go ahead and live my life without bettering the society around me.”

Randall believes that the Black Lives Matter campaign is a beneficial use of social media.

This is not the first time members of the University of Maryland’s African and African American community have gathered to discuss police relations between the African American community and police. On April 30, Community Roots partnered with the University of Maryland police department to discuss the uprisings in Baltimore. More than 150 students, University Police officers and panelists, including Del. Alonzo Washington (D-Prince George’s), gathered for the town hall meeting.

The first town hall meeting reflected on the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American resident of Baltimore, Maryland. He was arrested on April 12 by Baltimore City Police Department officers. While in transport to the jail, Gray’s neck and spine were injured while in transport in a police vehicle. Gray died on April 19 after being in a coma. The protests began on April 18 when the residents of Baltimore protested in front of the Western district police station.

WASHINGTON, USA - APRIL 22: Hundreds of people march through the streets of Baltimore to seek justice for the death for Freddie Gray who died from injuries suffered in Police custody in Baltimore, USA on April 22, 2015. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, USA – APRIL 22: Hundreds of people march through the streets of Baltimore to seek justice for the death for Freddie Gray who died from injuries suffered in Police custody in Baltimore, USA on April 22, 2015. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Further protests were organized after Gray’s death became public knowledge. Over the next few days, protests continued. Eventually, the Maryland Army National Guard troops were deployed and a state of emergency was declared in Baltimore. According to police, there were at least 250 people arrested, 285 to 350 business damaged, 150 vehicle fires, 60 structure fires, including most prominently a CVS drugstore.

BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 27: Demonstrators climb on a destroyed Baltimore Police car in the street near the corner of Pennsylvania and North avenues during violent protests following the funeral of Freddie Gray April 27, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Gray, 25, who was arrested for possessing a switch blade knife April 12 outside the Gilmor Homes housing project on Baltimore's west side. According to his attorney, Gray died a week later in the hospital from a severe spinal cord injury he received while in police custody. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD – APRIL 27: Demonstrators climb on a destroyed Baltimore Police car in the street near the corner of Pennsylvania and North avenues during violent protests following the funeral of Freddie Gray April 27, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Gray, 25, who was arrested for possessing a switch blade knife April 12 outside the Gilmor Homes housing project on Baltimore’s west side. According to his attorney, Gray died a week later in the hospital from a severe spinal cord injury he received while in police custody. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

On the University of Maryland’s campus, some students feel the same disconnect between the police department and the community, similarly to students in Baltimore.

“Personally, I feel that the cops on our college campus should do more and do more to be more interactive with the students.  I do not like that the only time that I see the college campus police is when they are standing in Stamp with their dog,” said Taylor Williams, the treasurer for the University of Maryland’s NAACP chapter.

Williams believes that the uprisings in these communities have caused a lot of tension between the residents and the police departments.

“I feel that the campus views of the cops are the same as regular police.  No matter what setting, people of color are targeted by the police,” Williams said.  “People of color are going to take precaution and discrimination when they face any cop because the outcomes are very skeptical.”

According to Dr. Jason Nichols, a professor of the University of Maryland’s African American studies department, the University of Maryland police department is a beneficial part of the University of Maryland community.

“These students feel this way, and I understand why they feel this way, and I think a lot of that has to do – not just stuff that they’ve experienced on campus, but also things that they’ve experienced other places, and I think sometimes I think we tend to paint things with a really broad brush,” said Nichols. “I know Chief Mitchell and I don’t think you’ll find a police officer anywhere who wants to build the trust of the community more than Chief Mitchell. Chief Mitchell and his chief of staff – all they want to do is engage students and all they want to do is gain their trust.”

Nichols says that the University of Maryland police department representatives, including Chief Mitchell, attend events about policing and will meet with students to answer any questions that they. Nichols believes that Ferguson was a catalyst for a lot of things, including money towards school and youth programs. Nichols also believes that the uprisings led to a sense of pride from being from Baltimore, and they’re using that pride to better their community. He said that many people learned about the uprisings in Baltimore from the media.

“I think that the mainstream press did a very poor job,” said Nichols. “I think that the Baltimore Sun did an excellent job, particularly with the Freddie Gray situation. They did a great job in covering all sides, but the mainstream press when they show up shaving no context for what’s going in the city for the past 30 years, and just look at one situation in isolation it does a disservice to the entire thing.”

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Franck D. Joseph II, the Chief of Staff at New York City Council, hopes that college students will get involved in the fight against injustice. Joseph believes students can become active by taking part in the political process. He wants students to attend town hall meetings, write and sign petitions and also write letters to their representatives.

“A lot of college students kind of live in this bubble,” said Joseph. “It gives you this false sense of reality and when you begin to see people who look like you or people that have aspirations just like you being treated in such an unjust matter you realize this actually could be your best friend or this could actually be your neighbor it wakes you up.”

Joseph, who also works as an orator and community advocate in New York, believes that social media has played a large role in advocacy against injustice. He believes that students can use social media to have larger town hall meetings with people that may be in another state.

“I think it brings everything to the forefront. It makes people of different cultures and backgrounds appear more united,” said Joseph. “There are celebrities now commenting and talking to every day people. It gives you better insight on how people think. You have people that think differently from you and you get to see those comments and I think that it gives you a better sense of what reality is because everything is right at the forefront. Social media has really caused the moment to grow.”

Kisha Brown, the Director of the Office of Civil Rights & Wage Enforcement for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, has partnered with the University of Maryland Law School to build connections between University of Maryland students and Baltimore community organizers. According to an article recently published in the Baltimore Sun, the University of Maryland law school has also launched a course where students can learn about the Freddie Grey case.

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