November 02, 2017

By Lapacazo Sandoval

Contributing Writer


“No justice, no peace”— These words are still echoing and falling, it seems, on the deaf ears of those charged to “protect and serve”, and their indifference and homicidal deeds are repeatedly supported by United States political leaders with intolerance and hatred practiced at the highest level in the political structure of this country. 

“Balitmore Rising” is a new documentary that follows the fall out in the wake of the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in police custody in Baltimore, Maryland.  As well crafted as this piece of filmmaking is, and it is, there is something very unsettling about it.  It made me feel numb.  It does not inspire me to rally or even begin to figure out what I can do, keeping it on the "I", to make sure that no more Black people are executed by Police Offers in this country.

Sitting inside the HBO’s screening room, I wanted to cry, even scream but the rising hairs on my arms and the back of my neck convinced me to hold study.  My heart wasn’t just heavy, it was cracking, held together by the flimsy tape of hop— “how long could this hold?” I pondered.  I could feel hands resting on my shoulder, whispering calming words in my ear. This is how I could watch and re-watch “Balitmore Rising” without howling like a mad woman.

Directed by Sonja Sohn (HBO series “The Wire”), “Balitmore Rising” follows activists, police officers, community leaders, and gang affiliates, who struggle to hold Baltimore together, even as the homicide rate hits record levels.

On reviewing the statistical data on the homicide rate’s climb, I am reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. which says… “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable ... every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

Dr. King’s word ring true today but I am echoing back in my head “well, how long?”

In the wake of the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in police custody, Baltimore was a city on the edge. Peaceful protests and destructive riots erupted in the immediate aftermath of Gray’s death, while the city waited on pins and needles to hear the fate of the six police officers involved in the gruesome incident. The combination absolutely reflects the deep divisions between authorities and the community.  There is a lot of urgency in this piece, clearly underscoring the urgent need for reconciliation.

The strife that grips Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, exposes a longstanding, crumbling foundation and the result is massive damage to a community in desperate need of urgent care and repair.

“Balitmore Rising” chronicles the determined efforts of people on all sides who fight for justice and work to make their city better, sometimes coming together in unexpected ways, discovering a common humanity where before they often saw each other only as adversaries.

There are many key figures that are spotlighted in the compelling documentary and all of the subjects come equipped with compelling stories, including Genard “Shadow” Barr (community leader, former gang member) is an addiction recovery specialist at the Penn-North Recovery Center, where he also helps organize a reentry jobs program for community members. His goal is an enormous task, making an effort to become a bridge between the police and residents of the Penn-North area. Today he’s working to open an entrepreneurship and job-training center in West Baltimore.

Commissioner Kevin Davis has led the Baltimore Police Department since 2015. He took over as interim police commissioner in the aftermath of the uprising and surging violence when the mayor fired the previous commissioner Anthony Batts. A lifelong Marylander, Commissioner Davis is a 25-year veteran and fourth-generation public safety professional. He was faced with repairing public trust in the department and stemming a rising tide of homicides amidst the trials of his six officers.

Adam Jackson (activist) is CEO of the grassroots think-tank Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle. His efforts are aimed at connecting young people to public policy and creating transformative change in Baltimore.

Dayvon Love (activist), director of public policy for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, has deep experience with grassroots activism in the community. He has given numerous speeches and led workshops to give insight into the plight of its citizens.

Lt. Colonel Melvin Russell, chief of the Community Partnership Division, Baltimore Police Depart­ment, joined the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) in 1979, as a police cadet. He worked as a uniform patrol officer and then an undercover officer for 20 years, before becoming an Eastern District Lieutenant in 2007. Recently, he led the BPD's chaplaincy program and worked cooperatively with such community leaders as “Shadow” to support a reentry jobs program, and prevent another uprising during the police officers’ trials in the Gray case.

Dawnyell Taylor (police detective) has been with the Baltimore City Police for more than 16 years. In 2015 and 2016, she was the lead investigator in the Freddie Gray homicide case and testified at the trial of Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., who was charged with Gray’s murder. Taylor continues to serve in the police academy in Baltimore.

Makayla Gilliam-Price is an activist and founded the youth justice organization City Bloc while still a high school student. She also organizes with the grassroots think-tank Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle.

Kwame Rose is an activist, an artist, writer, musician and a public speaker.  He’s gained notoriety during the events that swirled around the uprising that followed Freddie Gray's death and his most remembered for his public confrontation with Fox News reporter Geraldo Rivera. Today, Mr. Rose works in the office of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.

Here is a brief excerpt from a conversation with Makayla Gilliam-Price and Kwame Rose during the HBO exclusive cocktail and screening event of HBO’s “Baltimore Rising” directed by Sonja Sohn, which will air on November 20.

L.A. Watts Times: Makayla Gilliam-Price and Kwame Rose please update us.  What’s been happening in your lives since you both completed your participation in “Baltimore Rising”?

Makayla Gilliam-Price:  I graduated [from high school] in May, of 2016 and I got into the New School (a private University in New York City), which was one of my top [choices,] that I wanted to attend because I wanted to study graphic design and photojournalism. How­ever, first I decided to take a “gap year”.  And during that duration of time, I did a lot of emotional literacy work with myself, just unpacking a lot of the baggage that I had accumulated over being a student activist and just not really having space and time to breathe for myself. So, I did that, and I really took the time to commit to my art as well.  And now, currently, I am re-visiting a project that I started while I was in high school, and I really just didn’t have the time to commit to, which will be an independent grass-roots guerrilla journalism platform.

LAWT: That is a mouth full.  Your new platform you are describing as “an independent grass-roots guerilla journalism platform. Correct?

MGP: Correct.

LAWT: Explosive. How old are you again Makayla?

MGP: (laughing)  I am 19 years old.

LAWT: Kwame Rose, sir, can you top the guerrilla journalism platform.  Just kidding. Please share the direction of your new journey, please.

Kwame Rose: The first part of the year, I took a little time off just to get myself together. I’d been on several speaking engagements around the country, and in April, I accepted a position to work for the Mayor of Baltimore City [Mrs. Catherine Pugh].  

LAWT: What is your job function in the Baltimore Mayor’s office?

KR: I am a community liaison for Mayor Catherine Pugh.  Apart from that, I have traveled again and I had the privilege of speaking at Harvard University.

LAWT: What did you take away from your experiences as chronicled in the HBO documentary “Balti­more Rising”?

KR: I am now learning the inner-workings. Now on the different side of politics. I am doing a lot of campaigning with Bernie Sanders as a surrogate and as well with Mayor Pugh.

LAWT: How did you feel when you saw the documentary? 

KR: (long pause) Well, I’ve been waiting for this documentary to come out. You know, when you shoot it, it’s different when you were shot and you are in it. To watch it on the screen and come together, and see someone’s vision  [directed by Sonja Sohn] take place … we shot for 18 months, and when we first started, it did not feel like a film. It felt more like we were just amongst family.  Other people noticed the cameras but after a while, I didn’t notice them. I got to know the camera people.

I am 23 years old now.  I am trying not to make 22-year-old decisions or 21-year-old decisions, and to just learn from what I’ve been through the last few years.

“Baltimore Rising” directed by Sonja Sohn premiering on HBO and HBO NOW on Nov. 20.

Category: Arts & Culture