As jury deliberates in Freddie Gray death trial, Baltimore schools warn students not to protest

Police clashed with protesters near Mondawmin Mall after Freddie Gray’s funeral. [Reuters]

Jurors in Baltimore, Maryland are now deliberating whether a police officer is guilty of manslaughter and assault in the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died from a spinal cord injury that took place while he was in police custody last April. We know about Gray's death in part because someone took video of his arrest. His family says the police killed him, and it's hard to imagine they're wrong.

Deliberations started early Monday afternoon after the prosecution and defense's closing arguments.

The apparent police killing of yet another black man, a seemingly preventable death in a city with a long history of police abuse, sparked widespread protests in Baltimore and beyond.

As Baltimore now braces for a verdict in the first trial related to Gray’s death, schools officials today warned students they may face disciplinary action for taking part in certain protest activities, including class walkouts. Officials say they want to prevent the street violence that erupted during protests following Gray's death.

“Students need to understand that we support their right to express their emotions, and that we will facilitate opportunities for them to do so appropriately,” Baltimore City Schools chief executive Gregory E. Thornton wrote in a letter addressed to parents, families and city residents.

“However, we need to make it clear that student walkouts, vandalism, civil disorder, and any form of violence are not acceptable under any circumstances and that students who participate in such behaviors will face consequences.”

There is a difference between “emotions” and the constitutionally-protected right young people have to freedom of expression. Walkouts are by definition nonviolent.

In part inspired by Gray's death, a new human rights movement is evolving in America. Peaceful, non-violent resistance is an American tradition, and walkouts are a long-practiced and effective tactic for making a point without hurting anyone.

To dismiss as mere “emotions” the legitimate fears and concerns of black students who could one day, though no fault of their own, end up like Gray? Dumb. To do that in the American city with the highest percentage Black population is really, *really* dumb.

According to the U.S. Census, 63.3 percent of Baltimore's population in 2013 was black, and 31.6% was white. About 23.8% of the city was below the federal poverty level at that time.

From the Washington Post's coverage:

Students who break laws outside of school face sanctions just like anyone else, said Susan Goering, executive director of the ACLU of Maryland. “But students cannot be punished in school for actions that take place out of school, absent some nexus to school activities or in school consequences,” Goering said in a statement. “The school system’s letter ignores these rules, and could result in, and seems to be having the effect of, chilling legitimate, peaceful protest activity.”

Goering said that the school system’s letter “assumes that students only want to express their emotions, not rational views about the conduct of police and lack of accountability, and it misses an opportunity to affirmatively engage students who want to be politically engaged on these issues.”

Baltimore City Schools is not the only system bracing for possible safety issues if the Gray verdict comes out not guilty, in keeping with America's long tradition of devaluing the lives of young Black men, and the preservation of police impunity. But they are ground zero.

Don't fuck it up, guys.

Baltimore schools officials warn that students may face consequences for protesting Freddie Gray verdict” [washingtonpost.com]

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