The Freddie Gray story hung stale in my mind for days after watching the video of his arrest. Initially, I didn’t hear anyone talking about it. Then the riots began. I was in class when my professor told us we’d be leaving early for fear of violent protests. A student behind me exclaimed, “A protest about what? I love protesting! I did it last time there was one in Baltimore.” It was unnerving to listen to, and made me scared to think that there were many more uninformed, attention-seeking young adults like her that were ready to protest for entertainment.
It was my 21st birthday, so I wasn’t too upset that class was dismissed early. While getting ready to go out to bars, it was hard not to watch the news compulsively. Hours before I planned to go out, police union president Gene Ryan compared the protests to a “lynch mob." Understandably, protestors were offended. Instead of making speeches or signing petitions, though, some of them began assaulting and throwing objects at officers. Nonetheless, I went out with friends and celebrated my birthday. I went home at a decent hour, for fear for protests spilling into my Mount Vernon neighborhood.
The national media has savored every moment of the past few days’ events. Each bottle that’s thrown or fire that’s lit is speculated upon by prodding news anchors. I struggled to find a reliable source, and have since settled on Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton’s twitter for reliable, up-to-date information. I watched the news in hopes of hearing competent, useful observation from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake but was disappointed. "It's a very delicate balancing act because while we try to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well,” she babbled. She referred to the rioters as “thugs,” and later apologized. In retrospect, it’s as if she was trying to worsen the situation. She took hours to call governor Larry Hogan who was already working with the National Guard to declare a state of emergency. On Monday, military vehicles and outfitted guardsmen came to aid the police officers in combatting the rioters who were, at this point, looting and burning down local businesses. My boyfriend, Emma and I watched the news in silence.
Until Tuesday night, the riots felt like a faraway daze, perhaps one that was happening in another Baltimore. My classes were all canceled and the school was closed, but still the violence was only on my television screen. At about 10 o’clock, the time Rawlings-Blake set for a citywide curfew, we heard a small explosion. Standing on the edge of the tub to peer out our small bathroom window, we saw embers and ashes floating into the sky amidst a cloud of black smoke. Another explosion. We called 911 and were put on hold for enough time for fire trucks to show up. Rioters had lit a mattress on fire, which spread to a nearby telephone pole and took out power for a few buildings and cable for many more, including ours. We heard bottles being broken and angry voices moving down and away from the alley on our block.
The next morning BGE spent hours fixing the damaged wires. Two Humvees accompanied them; probably for fear that rioters would try to harm the workers hundreds of feet up in bucket trucks. It’s not unexpected after one of them slashed a fire hose while firefighters tried to put out the flames at a nearby CVS. The officer who was my self-defense instructor was talking to the guardsmen yesterday morning and I went out to say hello and thank them. “How’s it going?” I asked them, slightly intimidated by their full outfit fatigues. They both grinned and gave me thumbs-up. I smiled back. “This one’s a fighting machine, watch out for her!” the officer joked. “He’s right, if you guys need any backup let me know,” I said. It was refreshing to see them laugh after watching their stern faces on the news, toting guns and bulletproof shields. The conversation ended the way many have lately, “Stay safe.”
—Follow Sarah Grace McCarthy on Twitter: @birdy_grace