Editor’s Note: This article contains explicit language.
“How are people not going to believe there’s a war?” asked Erica Puentes, a sophomore United States Latino Studies minor.
She addressed a crowd of more than 150 in the Nyumburu Multipurpose Room Thursday evening.
Puentes, who is also the president of Political Latino/as United for Movement and Action in Society (PLUMAS), discussed the mounting tension between Baltimore residents, the National Guard, the Prince George’s Police Department and the rest of the officers occupying the city.
Community Roots, a student activist based organization, hosted the event to address the events unfolding in Baltimore. The organization canceled their elections in order to shine light on what’s happening 20 miles away from College Park.
A diverse group attended the town hall—from those that didn’t know what was going on in Baltimore to those who are from Baltimore. All sought answers.
“It’s actually impacting us, it’s not just this far away thing like in history you always hear about these riots,” said Yinyin Liao, a freshman psychology and economics double major.
“It’s so weird that this thing is happening,” Liao said. “It is impacting people that we know at a personal level; it is more than just a social issue.”
“I’m from Baltimore,” Gabby Davis, a junior theater major, said. “I want to stop my city from burning. I’m here to support in any way that I can since I am stuck here and not able to go to Baltimore.”
The town hall was structured so the panelists answered or commented on certain topics, including the appropriateness of responses from the mayor, governor and president, the language used in the media and the different systems of oppression in Baltimore.
“They shouldn’t be looting stores,” said panelist Alonzo Washington, who is also a member of the Maryland House of Delegates.
“Enough is enough,” Washington said. “We cannot let our children become criminals.”
The topic of looting came up repeatedly throughout the discussions.
Panelists discussed whether looting is justifiable and whether those involved should be called criminals.
In response to the arguments concerning the looting, American studies professor Robert Choflet quoted Donald Rumsfeld, an American politician as well as the Secretary of Defense under Gerald Ford and George W. Bush.
“Very often the pictures are pictures of people going into the symbols of the regime, into the palaces, into the boats and into the Ba’ath Party headquarters and into the places that have been part of that repression,” Rumsfeld said. “While no one condones looting, [ … ] one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who’ve had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime.”
Recent media phenomena including the mother who was videoed dragging her young son out from a protest, were also analyzed.
Dr. Josh Nichols addressed the topic by explaining that it’s not a laughable matter. He said the mother didn’t “want [her] son to be the next Freddie Gray.”
It wasn’t a matter of her being embarrassed by what her son was doing, he said. Rather, she trying to save his life.
Puentes, a resident of Forest Park neighborhood in Baltimore, listed places once can access to get accurate news about Baltimore. These included the Baltimore Bloc and Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle.
“They won’t hide the truth, Puentes said.”
Delegate Alonzo Washington also brought up the Maryland Second Chance Act, which will focus on assisting those convicted of misdemeanors in getting jobs. This law will help especially African-American men, he said.
“If we want to understand Baltimore 2015, we need to understand Baltimore in 1968” and so on. “We need to unpack the entire history of segregation in the city”, said professor Choflet, from the African-American studies department.
After the prepared questions were given to the panelists, the audience was invited to address the panelists directly. A long line immediately formed.
A student expressed that her family works in law enforcement therefore; she understands both sides of the situation. Her question was: how the community can progress and, what is it that we need to do to move on as a community?
“Students need to come together and make a plan of action,” Delegate Washington answered, adding a comment about mentorship.
“We can’t wait until these issues to realize what’s happening in our community,” said Maurice Nick, an alumnus of this university, who now works as a financial analyst at the Northrop Grumman Corporation. “More of us need to share our stories and expel ignorance. If you see the issue, that’s where you should go.”
“Better trained officers means safer officers,” Dr. Nichols added.
Delegate Washington noted that there needs to be transparency in investigations on police related homicides, since it is not reported through the federal or state level.
Washington stated that for over the last four years in the state of Maryland, 109 citizens have died at the hands of police. Sixty-five were African-Americans and 41 were unarmed.
He ended his statement with, “is transparency enough?”
The audience members continued to ask questions. Social media, white privilege and the connection between martial law and curfews were addressed.
“I support the rebellion. I will use violent and nonviolent ways to fight imperialism,” said Nathan Evans Brandli, an African-American studies major. “If you have frustration, to aim it at the police because they are the gatekeepers.”
He then finished, saying, “Fuck the police!”
“We need to stop being reactionary and start planning,” Puentes said. She encouraged those who are willing to help Baltimore, to work with activists and leaders of the city, since they have been planning change for decades.
She mentioned a food drive, which asked for donations for water and a variety of snacks for the children who have lost their free lunches at school due to school closures.
Nyumburu is the drop-off location for donations. The campaign will continue until the state of emergency is lifted.
“People keep dying and we want to know why and what can we do to fix it,” freshman government and politics major, Julian Ivey, said. “I think that nationwide, we are seeing change start to pile up on top of each other. Black Lives Matter has been going on for over a year now, it’s gaining more and more steam.”
The town hall ended with comments such as, “there’s always been hope in Baltimore,” followed by cheers and applause.
Karla Casique is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.