For our activist research project we chose to focus on The 2015 Baltimore Uprising: A Teen Epistolary. The book, published November 2015, collects hundreds of tweets Baltimore teens made during the uprising. The teen’s tweets are arranged in chronological order without editing or interpretation (although twitter handles are edited out for privacy). All profits from the book go toward the Baltimore Algebra Project – a radical grassroots organization staffed by young folk in Baltimore City.
We had both previously read the book, and found it important for centering voices that are often marginalized and ignored. Police violence is often directed at young Black men, and accounts of this violence are almost always from outside sources. Conversations about the uprising need to privilege the voices of the young folks who are being disrupted by this violence. These tweets show Baltimore City teens navigating an event they were primary actors in – making sense of the uprising beyond mass media accounts that distorted and criminalized them. We chose to center one of the book’s themes – cancelled proms during the uprising – out of dozens of possible threads.
Searching for “The 2015 Baltimore Uprising” brings up lots of hits (and, strategically, this book), but these sources are overwhelmingly short journalistic pieces from i.e. The Baltimore Sun. There isn’t a ton of research and scholarship on the uprising yet, but primary sources are starting to come together. Initiatives like the Baltimore Uprising Archive Project are currently gathering primary source data from the uprising, but these collections have a wide variety of sources from a wide variety of contributors. The Teen Epistolary is one of the first primary source collections to come out of the uprising, and refusing to ‘democratize’ knowledge by including outside voices (and really just re-inscribing power) is truly radical.
This project is important as part of a larger conversation on racism and police violence, where disruptions in formative years have a continued effect on folks’ lives. Teenagers in and out of school are learning how to be adults in the world, and it’s seriously harmful when these formative experiences are disrupted. Prom cancellations are not trivial – it is not a small thing when young folks are not allowed to walk outside on night’s they’ve been dreaming toward. It’s not trivial when gender and sexuality lessons are violently replaced with lessons on criminalization and surveillance. We need to stop the erasure and dismissal of this kind of violence, and to center the voices of the folks who are experiencing this violence.
“I am wounded. I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next”
– Ta-Nehisi Coates
Research and Destroy website
City Paper review of the zine
Baltimore Algebra Project’s website:
News articles showing the escalation towards cancelling/postponing/moving proms:
Copies of “The 2015 Baltimore Uprising: A Teen Epistolary” are available at Red Emmas bookstore and through AK Press
Copies of “Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me”, also (in part) on the effects of racism and police brutality on black teen’s formative years, are available at most bookstores