Many businesses and public spaces in Baltimore remained closed Tuesday after the violent events that took place throughout the city Monday. One of the more prominent closures was that of the area’s public schools, including the high school at which I used to teach.
At this time of tension and anxiety regarding the tragic events surrounding Mr. Freddie Gray, we have a heightened responsibility to our students, families, and school communities. First, the safety of our staff and students is our top concern. We are in constant contact with the Mayor’s Office, Baltimore City Police Department, and the City Health Department, and are coordinating with them to ensure we are ready to respond to situations as they arise. We will make crisis counselors and mental health professionals available at schools throughout the city for all of our students, and they will remain as long as it is necessary. Additionally, we have redeployed senior district staff and mobile units to assist in ensuring safe passage of our students between school buildings and bus stops.
This wasn't quite how things ended up playing out, according to Baltimore teachers I interviewed, as well as numerous social-media posts. The events that transpired Monday afternoon at Mondawmin Mall, a major transit hub that’s located across the street from Frederick Douglass High School, hardly seemed safe, as students were said to be released and immediately greeted by flanks of police in riot gear. Rumors of gun threats and some sort of period of anarchy had spread throughout the city wildly, with students reportedly planning to use the mall as the meeting place. What happened next is murky. Some witnesses claimed in interviews and social-media posts that the students were provoked by police aggression; others, including certain media outlets such as CNN and Fox News, indicated it was the teens who instigated the violence, taunting and threatening the officers. Eventually, cameras arrived. And as the protests escalated, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency and activated the National Guard, while Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake imposed a curfew on the city’s citizens.
The teachers with whom I spoke declined to use their full names because of a school-district policy restricting personnel's interactions with the media. Among them was a Baltimore-district instructor who teaches education classes in a teaching academy for high schoolers and lives blocks away from the mall. She recalled the chaos of the scene, including a confrontation involving a boy who she said was maced for getting too close to the barricade. Other neighborhood residents began throwing rocks to antagonize the cops for their occupation of the area. At times the police raised their guns, according to the aforementioned instructor and other witnesses.