IMO: These are their streets

When the Amnesty marchers took to the streets of downtown Baltimore on May 16, I was with them with Chelsea Seifert and Reynaldo Leanos, Jr.

I had never marched in a protest before.

From the get-go out of McKedlin Fountain, their chants were led by alternating speakers on a megaphone. The gathering of about 100 people loudly echoed the speakers’ statements.

For 3.5 miles.

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At first I kept professional distance, weaving in and out of bystanders and marchers and running ahead to photograph and video what I was seeing.

“Whose lives matter? Black lives matter!”

“What do we want? Amnesty! When do we want it? Now!”

“No justice! No peace! No justice! No peace!”

“Indict! Convict! And send those killer cops to jail!”

I grimaced. It seemed harsh.

But then, so are the stories I heard.

A brother shot in the back of his head. A son whose throat was slit. A son who was stabbed five times. A woman harassed. A woman held in solitary confinement for 64 days.

These weren’t stories I was reading or seeing online. These were voices I was hearing for myself.

This happened to me. Hear me. 

The more they walked, the more stories I heard. The more my footsteps aligned with theirs.

“Whose streets? Our streets! Whose city? Our city! Whose nation? Our nation!”

They stopped at the Baltimore Juvenile Justice Center where I learned that activists are angry over the recently approved $30 million jail for a new youth prison. I heard a young man give an impassioned speech.

The march continued to the Baltimore City Jail and past housing projects where we learned three jails exist within a single council district.

At one point, the meandering group of marchers broke through a police line. Officers stood back and let them through.

I overheard one officer say, “What’s the point if they’re not going to listen to us?!”

One of his colleagues put his hand on his chest. “Don’t take it personally,” he said.

“Indict! Convict! And send those killer cops to jail!”

I followed the marchers and caught up to Chelsea.

“Were we supposed to go this way?” I asked. “Why did they cut through the line?”

She looked over at me while we walked and motioned to the leaders of the march.

“These are their streets.”

I was beginning to understand.

At the intersection of Light and Lombardo Streets in downtown, the group stopped. They formed a line in front of traffic. They stood there. And for several light changes, they stood. And chanted: “Whose streets? Our streets!”

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My first thought: What good is this doing?

Their peaceful dissent was causing a ruckus.

My second thought: They WILL be heard. Hear them.

In those moments in that intersection, I thought: You will hear us. 

“Whose streets? OUR STREETS! Whose streets? OUR STREETS!”

“Whose lives matter? BLACK LIVES MATTER! Whose lives matter? BLACK LIVES MATTER!”

From my perch across the street, I was a bystander and I felt it. I was watching something I might never completely understand. Physically I was removed. But I was removed in other ways, too.

I was not born black. I was not born black in Baltimore. I was not born black in East or West Baltimore, or Chicago or Cleveland, or anywhere.

I heard a white pastor say, “Your struggle is not my struggle and mine is not yours. But I can stand with you. I can stand beside you.”

And so, while traffic was stopped and drivers angrily honked at the intersection of Light and Lombardo Streets, and protesters were accosted by angry onlookers and police arrived on the scene, I caught this moment in history. And in the civil rights narrative our country is in right now, these moments are building on top of each other.

This happened. You cannot deny. I was there. I saw. Here is proof.

There is power here in this transference of knowledge. This is the place where ignorance has a chance to be transformed into enlightenment and enlightenment into action and action into change.

I concur with the pastor: this might not be my day-to-day struggle and I might not understand every nuance of it. But, color aside, we are all human beings and we all belong to the struggle.

The question becomes: on what side of history will you stand?

“You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say that you did not know.” – William Wilberforce

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