We are taking a look at the evolution of the hashtags surrounding Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray on April 12, 2015. What began with #FreddieGray led to #BaltimoreRiots, then #BaltimoreUprising and #BlackSpring, #BreakTheCurfew and #BaltimoreLunch. These hashtags connected protesters, showed the selective enforcement of the #BaltimoreCurfew, helped to organize lunches for students when school was cancelled, and likely contributed to the swift indictment of the six officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death and the Justice Department’s investigation into the Baltimore Police Department.
#BaltimoreUprising captures the essence of what has been taking place in Baltimore: a community attempting to take back its ownership and speaking truth to power.
#BaltimoreUprising, a true feminist tag, challenges the status quo and demands justice. It demands an end to police brutality and creates a unified voice for citizens of West Baltimore. It challenges the normalized media narratives about Black communities under distress. In real time, citizens have been able to use the hashtag to document what is occurring not only during the protest, but general life in a city that has been long neglected.
Follow along with us to see the evolution and the uprising:
— Terrell J. Starr (@Russian_Starr) April 27, 2015
— Nighthawk (@chuka_uzo) April 29, 2015
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called for a 10:00 PM-5:00 AM curfew and Baltimore City schools closed on Tuesday, April 28. The Baltimore Public City School District reported that 84 percent of its students rely on meals from schools to make it through the day. Operation Help or Hush, an organization that originated out of the #Ferguson movement, set up the #BaltimoreLunch hashtag to help Baltimore students get the meals they needed.
— Charles Wade (@akacharleswade) April 28, 2015
— Carolyn Williams (@carolyn_will) April 28, 2015
Social media users, including Deray McKesson, who traveled from #Ferguson to his hometown of Baltimore to protest, found using the hashtag #BaltimoreRiots unrepresentative of the positive movement to organize a community and call for justice. #BaltimoreUprising gained traction due to this community wanting to control their own narrative of the events that have occurred after Freddie Gray’s death. Protesters in other states held rallies to stand in solidarity with Baltimore and organized under the #BaltimoreUprising and #BlackLivesMatter tags.
By Friday, May 1, the protests continued and Baltimore City’s State Attorney Marilyn Mosby brought charges to all six officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray. This finally looked like a small victory, though protesters and those following along on Twitter recognized this was the only beginning.
The state of emergency and the curfew were both lifted after tweets under the #BaltimoreUprising and #BreakTheCurfew tags showed the disparity of enforcement between white and black citizens of Baltimore. A video of a police officer asking white protesters to leave the protest area peacefully made the media rounds, as did a photo a black protester who was pepper sprayed, forced to the ground, and arrested after ignoring the curfew. White privilege was on full display in Baltimore: white protesters and citizens were left alone while black citizens and protesters were heavily monitored and policed.
— Brienne of Snarth (@femme_esq) May 3, 2015
Following the protests and a week of national media attention, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a Department of Justice investigation of the Baltimore Police Department for possible misdeeds and troubles that has plagued their serving population. People also used #BaltimoreUprising and #BlackSpring to praise AG Lynch for designating black lives as a viable priority for her office, rather than leverage for political gains or public popularity.
From Freddie Gray’s death to the launch of the DOJ investigation of the BPD, three prominent black women, Mayor Rawlings-Blake, State Attorney Mosby, and Attorney General Lynch, have emerged as the political faces of progress for Baltimore; examining and repairing the relationship between the police and citizens of Baltimore; and the search for #JusticeforFreddieGray. Though Mayor Rawlings-Blake faced many critiques on social media due to her actions in both initiating the curfew and calling her constituents “thugs” on national television, she was able to respond to protests and social media calls, ended the curfew and called for the civil rights investigation.
These hashtags have allowed us to track not only what is happening on the ground in Baltimore, but how elected and appointed officials are responding in real time. We have a record now of what Loretta Lynch stood for just days after being confirmed as the first Black female Attorney General of the United States. The same is true of the youngest State Attorney in the entire country, Marilyn Mosby. We are seeing capable and brilliant black women in political and legislative power like never before, and this could equal as positive representation for black women and girls who could see themselves in Lynch’s, Rawlings-Blake’s, and Mosby’s positions one day.
When we look back on #BaltimoreUprising, we will not just see a community fighting for justice, but of black women in positions of legal and political power being held accountable and holding others accountable for the positive change being demanded on the streets and echoing through hundreds of thousands of tweets.