Meghann Harris, a teacher at the Baltimore Design School who teaches graphic design and architecture classes to middle and high school students, recently received a great deal of publicity for her Facebook statuses pertaining to the recent protests in Baltimore, Md., and the effect they were having on students.
In an exclusive interview with Truth in Media’s Rachel Blevins, Harris discussed the side of the story that the mainstream media has completely ignored, and she shared the ways her students have responded to the recent rioting and destruction and turned it into an opportunity to restore their community.
Harris said the first protest she attended was on Saturday, in the western district of Baltimore. She said she was part of a group of people who started near the neighborhood Freddie Gray was from and then continued down North Avenue, where they joined thousands of others, who marched with them down to City Hall.
“The whole protest was really peaceful,” Harris said. “In fact, at the beginning of the protest, there were two people who got into a fight and the protesters stepped in and helped them to break it up immediately, on their own, without needing any intervention from police. It was amazing, and that was the only altercation we saw all day.”
While peaceful protests, such as the one Harris was a part of, were held for several days following the mysterious death of Freddie Gray on April 19, those protests garnered little attention from mainstream media. Harris said she saw very few cameramen marching with protesters, and that most stayed near City Hall, waiting for something to happen.
What did receive a great deal of attention were the riots that broke out after a flier circulated through local high schools promoting a planned “purge” of police near Baltimore’s Mondawmin Mall at 3 p.m. on Monday.
Harris took to her Facebook account to post a status about what she witnessed:
Harris tells Truth in Media that many students were trapped when their school buses were declared “out of service” and they were stranded in the area where the “purge” was scheduled to take place.
Harris said that she heard her students talking about the flier on Monday morning, and several of them voiced concerns about not being able to get home after school because they lived in the area where the “purge” was supposed to occur.
After contacting their parents, Harris agreed to transport two of her students who were from the Mondawmin area. She said they left the school at about 2:55 p.m. and were in Mondawmin by 3:05 p.m.
“When we pulled up, we saw that all of the streets in the area had been blocked off, and it took us about 30 minutes just to turn the corner,” said Harris, who went on to explain that while they didn’t see a lot of students in the area rioting, as the flier had promised, they did see lines of police officers, fully armed in riot gear, marching in preparation.
“We saw a line of what looked like 15 to 20 buses that had pulled up and said ‘not in service,’ and the passengers were being evacuated from the bus, into the area where the ‘purge’ was supposed to happen,” Harris said. “Once all of the buses were shut down, there was really no way for a lot of the people to get out of the area.”
In addition to overlooking the peaceful protests that were held in Baltimore before, during, and after the Monday night riots, the mainstream media has also overlooked the community’s efforts on Tuesday to clean up and restore the city of Baltimore.
Harris tells Truth in Media that she has been overwhelmed by the willingness from both her fellow teachers and her students to jump in and clean up. She said that she received multiple messages from students on Monday night, asking what they could do to help on Tuesday.
As a result of the riots, Baltimore schools were shut down on Tuesday, and Harris said that several of the teachers from Baltimore Design School joined the school’s principal to pass out lunches to students in need. She said that she and another teacher joined the organization Communities United to clean up businesses and residential areas.
“There are a lot of really good things happening, and none of those things are getting media coverage,” Harris said. “The most awesome thing we saw on Tuesday was that there were so many people out cleaning and helping out that there actually wasn’t enough to clean – it got to the point where people began cleaning up litter in the neighborhood.”
Harris said that while a lot of negative media attention has been directed towards the youth of Baltimore, she has witnessed the opposite of what has made headlines. “I haven’t heard a single student say that they weren’t willing to jump in and help,” said Harris, who explained that on Tuesday, there were groups of students all along North Avenue helping in the cleanup efforts.
Harris tells Truth in Media that the national media coverage of Baltimore has also prompted many of her family and friends to reach out to her and to ask if she is safe. She attributed this to the fact that most people don’t realize that the neighborhoods being affected by the riots are the poor black neighborhoods “the city has forgotten until now.”
While she is frustrated with the public’s perception of Baltimore, Harris said that she couldn’t blame people who don’t live in Baltimore for not understanding it. She explained that all the public is seeing are “crazy perspectives on video cameras that are waiting around all day.”
“On top of that, the media is not showing what is inciting some of these things,” Harris said. “If you go past a crowd of protesters at Canyon yards, and the sports fans are calling out the n-word to some of the protesters, or they’re calling the white protesters ‘n-word lovers,’ people are going to get upset. But nobody really wants to show any of those things. They just want to show the response. They’re trying to make it look like something that it’s not.”
Harris said that students in Baltimore have PTSD rates that are considered higher than some military service members. She attributed this to extreme poverty, living in areas of drugs and high crime, having parents that have to work multiple jobs to provide for their family, and living in a country with a welfare program that “encourages black mothers to be single, because they receive more government assistance than they would if they had a supportive father in the home.”
Harris tells Truth in Media that while the protesters are demanding justice for Freddie Gray, they are searching for an answer to the bigger problem that is plaguing both the city of Baltimore and the country as a whole.
“Freddie Gray is like the catalyst in the situation,” said Harris. She explained that while there are many Americans who are wondering “why all of the sudden are black people getting killed by cops,” this issue is nothing new for those living in poor black communities.
“There are historic deep roots in this country that completely disenfranchise the black community and especially the black inner-city youth,” Harris said. “Most of my students could tell me from day one when I met them, that police brutality happens to black people in Baltimore city, and throughout the country.”