“I’ve Never Known Normal” By Bry Reed

On April 25, Writers in Baltimore Schools held a write-in for its members to respond to the death of Freddie Gray and the Baltimore Uprising five years later. All this week, the Beat is running the poems, essays, and reflections that came out of the write-in…

When Freddie Gray was murdered in 2015, I learned a lot about venom. News about Freddie Gray spread across the city as his neighbors and family fought for media attention. For me, hearing about Freddie Gray started slowly. On the way to school, I heard local radio stations reporting that after being arrested by the Baltimore City Police Department, Freddie Gray Jr. was in critical condition at Shock Trauma. By April 19 2015, Gray would die from the fatal injuries he suffered in the back of a Baltimore Police transport van.

The venom that targets Baltimore City spread slowly. First, it exploited Henrietta Lacks and her cells. Then, it poisoned the drinking water of Baltimore City Public Schools turning water fountains into ancient decorations. Finally, it spread across news stations and televisions and convinced the world that Baltimore had gone mad and Black children were to blame. 

That’s how venom works. It starts slowly and before you even realize it you’re too far gone. 

The death of Freddie Gray came amidst a national push to end police brutality. The genesis of this movement took root in the consistent media coverage of Black men and boys murdered. The names Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were still fresh. Along with media coverage of the murders, news about Black organizers and the Black Lives Matter movement filled social media as young people across the world got connected and informed about protesting, organizing, and political education.

I was sixteen years old and already exhausted. Across Twitter there were videos of Black people bleeding, dead, or dying. The images were raw. The sounds of screaming children, police commands, and tears—the soundtrack of Black mortality haunted me. The death of Freddie Gray hit home. Days after his death an air of pain, heartache, and frustration settled across the city. We were tired of being murdered by the State and told it was our fault for being Black, poor, and disposable. 

Freddie Gray’s funeral was not the beginning of the Baltimore Uprising. The Uprising started long before then. Baltimore City is a place shaped by a history of the transatlantic slave trade, eminent domain, and neglected Black communities. Ignoring the structural inequality that marks the city is a mistake that eclipses centuries worth of anti-Black violence. Freddie Gray’s funeral was not the beginning of the Baltimore Uprising. 

Now, five years later the venom still seeps into the city’s skin. Amidst a pandemic that will alter human interaction, education, and the economy for decades to come, the venom continues to feed on Black poor folk more vulnerable than ever. For me, April 2015 was the moment I saw toxins breaking down. Black organizers taught us about anti-Blackness, capitalism, and whiteness. The poisons were clear. Since then, I’ve been fighting for a future free of venom.  

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