Interview with Youth in Baltimore

"Joining the Revolution Club is not just for me. I’m ready to make change"

June 22, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


Baltimore is a major city which is marked not only by extreme poverty and degradation for hundreds of thousands of Black people, but as a central part of that oppression, their brutal treatment and murder at the hands of the police. Anger and outrage simmers just below the boiling point all the time and has now risen to the surface with the rebellion in the wake of the police murder of Freddie Gray. As people have lifted their heads and stood up, a core has been drawn to the revolution and to fighting for a different world, free of all oppression. Recently, in the wake of the uprising and rebellion protesting the murder of Freddie Gray, reporters from Revolution had the unique opportunity to interview Black people of different ages who are living and working in West Baltimore. There are people all over this country and all over the world who looked to Baltimore and followed the struggle there. The following interview involved youths from the newest generation awakening to the struggle and stepping into the revolution. It is important for all our readers to take note and learn from their perceptions of the world and what is motivating them to step out.

Revolution began by asking about what the life of this newest generation is like in Baltimore. Pretty quickly they began to talk about what is happening to young people all over this world and their thoughts, feelings, and questions about that...

Young woman: School is OK, but I think you can learn more from outside experiences and influences. Celebrities, whatever, they influence you. That’s part of your education. And then the books that you read from various people, I don’t know if they had a degree or not, but you still learn from them. So, school is not the only institution where you can learn something.

Baltimore, in front of a vacant homeAP photo

It’s hard to survive in this city. I’m still trying to survive myself! I guess compared to when I was younger we still are poor—but it’s a little better. Compared to what other people make like the lawyers and politicians. They probably make more money than the people that’s actually working, like the teachers. Then they [teachers] go to their families and they don’t have nothing to give them. What does that say about the state of the community and the world?

And I don’t understand why we having wars. Because, I know we have our grievances with other countries, but they fighting for the same rights and beliefs we have here. It’s just paraphrased different. We still human at the end of the day. They eat, breathe, and sleep just like we do here. And then having a bunch of people sacrifice their life with no other pathway. And they probably got brainwashed into it, thinking that, “Oh this is cool.” Thinking this is helping your country.

It doesn’t matter statistically, but many people—a 50 percent chance of them coming back alive? It’s not really an accurate number. The lucky ones, they still messed up in the head, then they wonder why people shoot up movie theaters and all that.

Revolution: What is school actually like?

Young woman: School is confusing, actually. They limit the education to what they know. They don’t teach us what we want to know. Some of the classes we have, we don’t need. We don’t want to consider those careers. School-wise, when you think about it, a bunch of stuff be going through people’s minds. Half the time that’s why students are failing, they’re not worried about schooling, just survival. Most of the students at my grade level have jobs—like fast food. I don’t have a job, I need one. Hopefully I get one.

And my dad was telling me about how Africans, us—our own color—used to sell each other to the white people, the Europeans. You know what’s kind of ironic? We have a holiday after Columbus, and he killed all those people. So I’m like why are we celebrating for a man who did such harsh things?

Why do we learn about all these people who do all these horrible things to a group of people? Like Hitler and all of them, why do we learn about them? But why don’t we learn about good people? We ain’t learned nothing about Malcolm X. I mean, Martin Luther King did some things. But like... Harriet Tubman. It’s like the same people over and over again who made the same impact. Why can’t we learn about all the people who made a difference? I know it’s broad. I know it’s many people out there who made a difference.

Youngster: We don’t even learn about Martin Luther King.

Young woman: That’s why we—my generation of African-Americans—lack the talents we have now. Because we so brainwashed into the technology, weave, and all that. And wanting to be ‘hood and all that—to represent what street we from. It’s not our fault. They brainwash us to think this way. Not everybody that’s African-American is bad. Not everybody that is Caucasian is bad. Not everybody that is European is bad. Not everybody who is Asian is bad. The world is just messed up.

Youngster: At my school, the teachers cuss. They tell us “F” us, “F” your mother. They like “F” you go home. They’s like, “You don’t want to be here—go home.” So this boy actually went home, they called the pigs. Pigs dragged him. Cuffed his legs. Everyone be cussing. Police be cussing. My teacher say “F” you. “Get the ‘h’ out of his face.” Everything. It happens at my school definitely.

This kind of verbal assault was confirmed by another youth who sat in on the interview. She said this is what happens at her school too.

We went on to talk about how the police do Black people in Baltimore, the murder of Freddie Gray and how these youths felt when they heard of his murder—and when the people started protesting.

Youngster: My school wanna talk about Freddie.

Young woman: They shoot you if you run.

When I was younger, me and my sister—and we were young—would go to the school in our old neighborhood. So when we walked by from the store, a cop car pulled over, there was a Black guy who came out. He was like “What are you doing” and all that. Cuz he was like frisking my sister. You know, the woman is supposed to frisk her, not the man. He said he mistake her for someone else that they was after or something. Just imagine how traumatizing she still is. You can’t say “sorry” if you did it anyways.

I think it was around the same time, so me, my sister, basically my family, my dad, his friends was on his porch, he was having a beer and all that. So the police pulled over cuz I guess he was being loud. Then again, it’s our property, so we can do anything we like. So they came over and said you not allowed to sit on your porch. So my dad got mad. He was like, this is our property so why aren’t we allowed to do whatever we please? It was a white guy and a Black guy, saying you’re not supposed to be there. We just went in the house. That’s my experience with the police, so far.

Maybe other people keep to themselves because they probably traumatized to not talk about it. Or, like, nobody else know my pain, my struggle, yada yada yada. But it’s real crazy. The world is crazy!

Revolution: So what was the response when people started coming out into the streets after Freddie was killed?

Young woman: They were expressing their opinion against the higher power, or hierarchy or whatever the case may be. Because we still oppressed at some certain level—cuz obviously upper class, middle class, in between, all together. Probably homeless people, you never know, they probably were protesting with us. Or other people who felt the same way. People were uniting with each other. Probably who don’t like each other. Don’t even like know each other.

Revolution: Do you think that what people did in the face of all that repression, thanks, basically, in Ferguson and around the country, had some impact on people?

Young woman: Half and half in my opinion. Because everybody got a different mindset on things. Like, “Why I gonna be out there protesting for somebody I don’t even know?” Other people be like, “We Black. This is our generation, so why not stand up and help other people that could be just like him!” Cuz it happens every day. I’m pretty sure it’s happening right now, god forbid. But it’s just how it is.

I hope for a change. Cuz this is not the only time of protest, the first time protests, the altercations with police, happened. It’s been around for centuries. You said genocide—like basically police kill off everybody.

Equality. I hope for that, I know it’s a process. But it’s about more than equality. Cuz racism is probably not gonna stop in America, or the world for that matter. It’s just so mainstream. What’s kind of ironic, when we did the riots, they said little about the protest that we did that was actually peaceful. I don’t watch the news because they lie too much about stuff. They’re not accurate. They’re biased.

I used to be negative. But I changed my ways. Cuz I wanna help people. Joining the Revolution Club is not just for me. I wanted this to happen, so I’m glad I met [the people in the Revolution Club]. Cuz I’m ready to make change.

That’s maybe one of the causes of all this. Cuz it don’t make sense for people who live in the same area and want to fight for this cause to burn down their own city.

I’m not saying it was right. I used to fight to get rid of bullies. Usually when you have actions louder than words, it draws people in. Because it went worldwide—other people in other states and countries also protested for Freddie Gray.

Baltimore, May 2
Revolution Club, Baltimore, May 2. Photo: Special to

There are different views among the people and there is debate and discussion over how the uprising began and how to look at it. This came up in every interview we did over this period.1 And different forces, including the powers-that-be, preachers, and the school administrators have been out there “summing it up” for people. Only days before, when State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged the cops, she made the point that she would give the people justice and they have to give her peace. So, we went on to talk about the uprising in Baltimore, how it began and their thoughts about it.

Revolution: Why do you think they pay attention when the people rise up? And they don’t seem to pay attention when they don’t rise?

Young woman: Because they expect us as a race, as a whole, to lash out like that. They want us to riot in the city. They obviously want us to know that we never gonna achieve nothing as a race, as a whole, or middle class people. They expect us to lash out in all these kinds of ways cuz they know we’re not gonna be more than we are to them. That’s my belief.

Revolution: This is important—how are people looking at what people did in the streets, when people did rise up? Like you’re saying, that brought a lot of attention to what was going on.

Youngster: They want rights!

Young woman: I agree.

Revolution: You said you thought people should have handled the situation differently, they should not have looted or burned down stores. But I have a question—why do you think people rose up in the way they did? And do you think anything was accomplished?

Young woman: I guess they were tired of being peaceful. They are people who protest every day. They were drawing the attention of other people. Like Stephanie Rawlings-Blake [the Mayor] and Marilyn Mosby [the State’s Attorney]. So I guess it’s a sense of hope. I guess when the charges came out [when Mosby charged the cops] people was thinking we finally get some justice. They don’t realize that’s a process. That takes time. But I don’t really think that’s good enough. Maybe they did that to calm us down and draw our attention away from the situation, but that don’t mean nothing, we still need to fight.

Revolution: Without that fight, it seems—you can go back to Trayvon [Martin], and then you can come forward to Ferguson in the fall, when people fought and people all over the country refused to go along with that, and then Baltimore. People rose up, and now they brought these charges. We had a small piece in our paper on this basically addressing “But What About the Violence??” And it said when slaves revolted on a plantation, and burned the plantation down, who would say it was wrong to do that? Ultimately we need a revolution and that is actually violent. But people rising up in an organized way is a certain message. And it breaks out of the bounds that the powers, what Mosby said: I’ll give you justice but you give me peace. Saying stop breaking out of the boundaries of what I say is acceptable. April 14 was a nationwide day of protest, people around the country shut down schools, highways, bridges. In New York, protesters shut down the Brooklyn Bridge. It was about going on the offensive. Not just responding to another murder. People said this is important enough that we’re gonna shut things down. We’re gonna make a statement that police murder is not tolerable.

Young woman: We’ve been doing peaceful protest for so long. Obviously Martin Luther King was peaceful, what happened to him? He got murdered. So people lashed out. It is time to make a stand. But we need more than protest, I still believe in that. We need this revolution thing. If other people feel the same way, we can accomplish more. I think younger people should be involved with the revolution.

Revolution: When you guys met the Revolution Club what attracted you?

Young woman: I was walking. Police had the street blocked off, in riot gear. Then I saw the Revolution Club. They was talking about revolution and all that. And I was like yeah! Cuz I always wanted to help people since I was little, little. I was like, finally, a chance to be involved in something that is bigger than my education and all that. So hopefully one day I’ll impact the world. And stop all these instances of police brutality and for women. They’re going after women’s rights and taking them state by state. My teacher was telling me, they can’t serve gay people in restaurants and all that. I mean, I love God and all but I don’t care about what he says about gay people. He forgives everybody.

We met this dude Monday; he was talking about investment. We was telling him about the revolution, but he was disregarding our opinion. And he was saying you got to invest in the community, he’s investing in the community. Some dude we ran into on the street. He was saying this y’all is communist propaganda. He said revolution is no good. He said we need to put money into the community.

But not everybody can invest. And if you investing in the community, then why are there all these abandoned houses? It made me so frustrated. I was so mad. He was more interested in money than human life. You saw what he was wearing, all fresh, so he’s not worrying about the revolution. He’s not worried about the vacant houses. So his opinion was irrelevant.

Youngster: We was arguing at City Hall, this guy was a fool. He was saying, we just trying to make money selling stuff. We told the man off. He need to go to our website. Here’s what BAsics says about the vacant houses in Baltimore. BAsics says we gonna put people to work building beautiful houses:

Let’s talk about work and housing together. Look at all these neighborhoods which under the rule of the capitalist system have been allowed and even encouraged to rot. Look at the youth and others just hanging out on the street corner with nothing to do or no way to do anything that doesn’t get them into one kind of trouble or another. Imagine changing all that because now we have the power over society—we go to these youth and we say, “Here, we’re going to give you training. We’re going to give you education. We’re going to bring you materials. We’re going to enable you to go to work to build some beautiful housing and playgrounds and neighborhoods here for yourself and those who live here.” Imagine if we said to them, you can not just work, you can be part of planning all this, you can be part of figuring out what should be done for the benefit of the people to make this society better and to contribute to making a whole different and radically better world. Imagine if for these youth, they could have a way, not just to make a living, building housing, hospitals, community centers and parks and other things people need, but at the same time, they could have the opportunity and the dignity of working together with people throughout society to build a whole better world. There’s absolutely no reason why these things aren’t possible except that we live under this system which makes them impossible.
BAsics 2:6

Revolution: What is different about the Revolution Club than, say, people who say we need investment?

Young woman: My beliefs, and a mentality and mindset of already wanting to change the world for the better. And then to find out other people got these same interests. I don’t care about money. I looked up the symbols on the dollar bill, what it actually symbolizes. That’s not what we should be for: money. I wasn’t born up with money, period. The Revolution Club had a different view. We all got different viewpoints but this is better. We all born naked.

Revolution: What have you done with the Revolution Club?

Young woman: We need to announce that we have the website. The information is right there.

Youngster: I been helping pass out the papers, helping y’all find a place to sleep, when we got out with the papers, I say you got to make a donation. Some people give donations. I show people BAsics. I’m on Chapter 2.

Young woman: We can’t save all people but some people that actually want to do something can rise up, and do what we doing, and make their own movements. Not follow what the system does to us. I think that would be a good thing. That’s why I want to join revolution. So I can wake up the people. Saying we want change, we got to bring that. Even though it don’t get public, we still got to bring it in some way or form. So people can wake up and see what’s going on. Even though some people choose to ignore it as a group. Cuz we’re not here for money. I don’t have money, you don’t have money, he don’t have money.

Youngster: It’s about the system. I’m gonna cheat and look in the book. [reads]

You can think of this in terms of politics and the state: If you didn’t have, not only laws but a state apparatus of repression with the armed forces, the police, the courts, the prisons, the bureaucracies, the administrative function—if you didn’t have that, how would you maintain the basic economic relations of exploitation and the basic social relations that go along with that? How would you maintain the domination of men over women, the domination of certain nationalities or “races” over others, if you did not have a superstructure to enforce that, or if that superstructure—the politics, the ideology and culture that is promoted, the morality promoted among people—were out of alignment with those social and, fundamentally, those economic relations? Once again, you wouldn’t be able to maintain the order, stability and functioning of the system.

This is fundamentally why a system of this kind cannot be reformed. This goes back to the point that’s in the Revolution talk about systems, and how they have certain dynamics and “rules.” You can’t just play any card you want in a card game or slap a domino down any time you want, anywhere you want, because the whole thing will come unraveled. And you can’t have, as any significant phenomenon, cooperative economic relations in a system that operates on the dynamics of commodity production and exchange in which labor power itself, the ability to work, is a commodity.

A lot of reformist social democrats will talk in these terms: “Let’s have real democracy in the superstructure” (they don’t generally use terms like “superstructure,” but that’s the essence of what they mean) “and then,” they’ll say, “on that basis let’s ‘democratize’ the economy.” What would happen if you tried to implement this “democratization” of the economic base? That economic base would still be operating on the basis of, would still be driven by, the anarchy of commodity production and exchange in which, once again, labor power is also a commodity—in fact, the most basic commodity in capitalist relations and capitalist society—and soon your “democratization” of the economy would completely break down, because the dynamics of commodity production and exchange would mean that some would fare better than others, some would beat out others—plus you have the whole international arena where all this would be going on.
BAsics 1:21

Revolution: That is a different system than what we have now. You’ve talked about what the Revolution Club has done, but what ideas do you have about what the Revolution Club should be doing?

Young woman: Going out and doing stuff. More than just protesting. What the people in the club did to help us join, we could be doing that with other people, bring to them the understanding of what the revolution is about.

1.“Interviews in West Baltimore: Living Amid Poverty and Police Violence...and Fighting for a Whole Different World
West Baltimore: ‘I Take a Lot of Pleasure Being Part of This... Even Though It’s in the Beginning Stages’
Interviews with Johns Hopkins Students: Stepping Out from an Elite Campus, and Standing with the Rebels of Baltimore
Interview in West Baltimore: ‘We need a revolution. We do.’” [back]



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