The footage involving Freddie Gray and the Baltimore City cops brought it all back.
Growing up in 1990s Baltimore, some of the cops would use Black Baltimore as a playground to do whatever they wanted to do. Preteen years, I would hear from the teenagers and the older men in my neighborhood about the harassment, brutality and false arrests. I would watch their eyes and hear them mumble profanity at the patrol cars riding by them slowly, while the cops would make eye contact right back at them.
In my teenage years, I would start to see it for myself. Cops handcuffing you, followed with an order for you to stand in the hot sun. They would go back to sit comfortably in their patrol car with the air conditioning running, eyes fixed on you, claiming they are radioing in your description, which would take them 20 minutes or 30 minutes to complete.
The physical brutality by their hands ran rampant in the 1990s, especially in the summer seasons. Lord knows what my uncles and the fathers, older brothers and uncles of my childhood friends went through in the 1980s and 1970s, before mobile phone cameras and the Internet. Not to mention the verbal insults that you would hear from some of these cops smelling like aftershave and mouthwash: “Roaches!” “Junkie!” “(N-word)!” “Dummy!” “Shut the (expletive) up! I will lock you up if you say one more word.” You could be sitting in your home, with your window up and open in Black Baltimore and hear this kind of dialogue.
Lately, this is why I have not been tuning into CNN or The Baltimore Sun online to see what the media are saying about my city. This is why 90 percent of time, I will stay quiet when people who are not from Baltimore ask me with intrigue in their eyes, “Is The Wire like Baltimore?” Years ago when The Wire was on the air, people use to question me about why I would decline to watch it; I would answer, “two white men are the creators of this show, and one is a former Baltimore City cop.” I knew that I would lose them if I went into the details like I did in the paragraphs above this one, so I would stop my reasoning right there.
The media do Black Baltimore no favors in the fairness category. Either my people are hooked on drugs, romanticized as some mythical drug-kingpin or, as of recently, violent protestors without a cause. Such unfairness will instruct you to pay no mind to the progress the city has made and the history fueling today’s protests: generations of blacks in Baltimore going through police brutality, verbally, emotionally and physically.
It is in my best prayers that Freddie’s family heals and becomes stronger. Matter of fact, I extend that prayer to every black family who lost their loved one to police brutality. There is an element of being black and dealing with oppression that won’t ever be fully expressed on television or in the newspapers, because after the camera crews leave, the inequalities somehow find a way to continue. Maybe in the future, if complete freedom does find a way to come, it will be in the form that such an element is not edited by those who do not know or understand. Maybe then they will shut up and listen.
Shaun La is a photographer, writer and a former Baltimore resident who now lives in New York City.
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