Gwenaelle Thomas is a Meyerhoff Scholar pursuing her degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, campus. A member of the class of 2016 and a native of Maryland, she has watched firsthand how the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray while in police custody has both galvanized students at the university but also divided them. The 20-year-old shares her thoughts with MTV News:
"Another one" may be harsh, but it's a common phrase to hear now in the dining hall or sitting in the atrium of the library because, honestly, it’s getting hard to keep up with the names. To say I'm disturbed by the fatal police encounter with Freddie Gray, would imply I am surprised, which I’m not.
I, along with many of my classmates, am growing more cynical each day. People are starting to lose hope that anything will change. Instead, we've become accustomed to the "another one" mentality when reading about the latest news of men (and women) of color being killed.
'Black Lives Matter' Is Just 'Graffiti'
Because I'm enrolled at an honors university and a PWI, I always have to mentally prepare myself for the ignorance I may overhear. In fact, the closest I've ever come to snapping was shortly after the Eric Garner video was released. "Black Lives Matter" was chalked on about 10 sidewalks all over campus.
On Instagram, I read a classmate’s caption saying she was disgusted with the graffiti on school property and how she personally felt uncomfortable with the message. This attitude was not uncommon amongst the non-POC students.
Campus Squads: The Soldiers, The Leaders And The Complacent
What I’ve noticed recently is that students on campus fall into three main subtypes: the soldiers, the leaders, and the complacent. A Jay-Z lyric, "I tried to teach [n---as] how to be kings, and all they ever wanted to be was soldiers," resonates with me as I speak to many of my friends. I’ve noticed many of them either laughing as they share the viral videos of locals bashing cars and assaulting officers on the street or adding their own commentary, encouraging the acts of violence.
A friend made the point that "people of color are tired of being killed and being peaceful is not helping." He advocates violence if that means the community is coming together to serve a greater purpose and does not believe people should be focused on trivial details of property damage when POC are still actively being neglected by a system that is allegedly suppose to serve justice and equality to all.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are many prayer groups forming on campus, specifically to address the needs of Baltimore; several students are going into the city on their own free time to help clean or pass out food. I couldn’t fathom how close to home this hit until I was able to see flames in the distance as I looked out the library window. But to clarify, the city is not in the exaggerated state of panic the media is portraying.
The anger people feel is well warranted; however, only a small portion of people are looting, assaulting officers or screaming obscenities in the street. Several people have marched downtown, and all made the same observation that the majority of the locals are indeed calm. Several of my friends walked through impoverished neighborhoods and had no fear of any harm coming to them, but once they reached the heavily policed areas of the city, they were faced with pepper spray, tear gas and racial slander from both officers and white bystanders.
The third attitude I’ve observed doesn't correspond with a neutral standpoint, as it has a more negative undertone. The people who fall in this category are the ones who are quick to call people "savages" and quote Dr. King as if the world is really so simple. These are usually the students who say things along the lines of, "If ______ had cooperated, been dressed better, spoken better, etc., then they would still be alive."
Personally, I don't agree with that perspective as I don't believe anyone is entitled to play God and decide what set of criteria makes it OK for someone to be killed -- regardless of the circumstance leading up to their death. I call this class complacent, because the people who follow this line of thinking are quick to judge and give advice, without taking any route of action themselves. These are usually the social-media activists who don't practice what they preach.
Generation Politically Correct
A lot of students here fit this last group, as we've been raised in an era that's concerned with being politically correct and not hurting anyone’s feelings. I’ve heard many students whisper their opinions, but in situations where they have the chance to voice how they feel, they no longer have anything to say.
Unfortunately, I anticipate the death of Freddie Gray will soon fade out as with [Walter] Scott, Garner, [Mike] Brown, [Trayvon] Martin, etc. The citywide curfew had many students rejoicing to get out of class early, rather than realizing the severity of the situation that forced that course of action. Several students say they would be involved if not for finals coming up next week or having class the next day.
I understand all the points of view I’ve heard thus far. Nonetheless, it saddens me to think nonchalance is becoming the norm.