In "Baltimore Rising," Fault Lines looks at the relationship between the city and its law enforcement, after the death of Freddie Gray. The film airs on Monday, June 15, at 10 pm Eastern time/7 pm Pacific on Al Jazeera America. | Click here to find Al Jazeera in your area.
Our team arrived the day after Freddie Gray’s funeral—after watching Baltimore on fire the night before. High school kids had clashed with police, and a CVS at the corner of Pennsylvania and North Avenues was looted and burned—an image that would quickly be seared into the national consciousness.
By the time we got to that intersection the next day, people were cleaning up the CVS. The mood was one of healing. People were playing music, dancing in the streets, and trying to get back on their feet and grapple with what had happened the night before—and to process an anger that you could still feel.
What struck us quickly was the depth of Baltimore’s grassroots community—a variety of organizations that have been focused on addressing the rift between police and residents for decades. When we arrived, that spectrum of social movements was on display. It was a really powerful contrast to the images of destruction that captured everyone’s attention the night before.
At the same time, the police were still out and the militarized presence of the National Guard was everywhere—in the air, on the ground, tanks, tactical units, riot teams, men in military fatigues walking the streets. So there was this general feeling of unease that lasted the whole week following Gray’s funeral, ending with the announcement by the prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby, of charges against the officers involved in his arrest.
We spent a lot of time in the neighborhood where Gray grew up, outside the Penn North Community Center, a residential drug treatment clinic that is also a sort of community hub. People are always out on the sidewalk in front or in the park across the street—and that’s where we would go and meet people. One of them was Blaize Connelly-Duggan, who runs the center. He described this almost magical coming together that had occurred on the block since Gray’s death.
But he lamented that it took burning stores to get the rest of the city—and the nation—to pay attention.
“It’s sad that people seem to care more about broken buildings than broken lives,” he said.
Heber Brown III, the pastor at Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, said he saw the property destruction of the uprisings as a reaction to a daily violence—something his two boys, and many young people in the city, feel not just physically, but mentally.
“It frustrates me watching that beautiful wonderment and gleam of innocence leave my son's eyes as he realizes what's going on,” Brown told us. “They count the gun tanks, and I wonder what that's doing to them. Why do we think that it's OK for our children to see this and to live in this?"
On May 1, when the prosecutor announced charges against the officers, we went back to the intersection of Pennsylvania and North. People were dancing in the streets. We met several of Freddie Gray's friends, who seemed to be in disbelief that there’d been some small step towards justice for their friend—and that they’d been heard.
While many in the media were drawn to Baltimore because of the Freddie Gray incident, and the community’s response to his death, we wanted to know more about the man—like where he came from and what he experienced.
Paul Abowd is the producer of the Fault Lines film "Baltimore Rising." Anjali Kamat and Nikhil Swaminathan contributed to this report.