Speaking to MintPress about his arrest in Baltimore, Journalist Shawn Carrié reflects on the unfortunate reality that “people are struggling for the demand that they just don’t want to be killed by the publicly appointed guardians who are supposed to protect them.”
New York City-based journalist Shawn Carrié began covering the Black Lives Matter protests in the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown. The death of Freddie Gray and the outbreak of protests brought him to Baltimore, where, on April 27, he encountered police brutality first hand.
As he recorded video of a riot at a Baltimore mall, police shot Carrié in the forehead with a rubber bullet. The shot knocked him off his feet, and left a massive bruise still visible a week later. As he attempted to recover his senses from the resulting concussion, the Baltimore Police Department put Carrié under arrest and denied him medical assistance.
— Colin Campbell (@cmcampbell6) April 27, 2015
Although not in Baltimore working on an assignment, Carrié acted within his First Amendment rights as a journalist. Police still held him for over two days in a tiny, overcrowded cell.
While in jail, he got to know many other prisoners arrested in the days of Baltimore’s worst unrest, as he reported on Saturday for The Guardian. Some of his companions in jail had been caught up in mass arrests for expressing their First Amendment rights, or had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others confessed to participating in looting or other destructive actions.
But with so much time spent in their company, Carrié learned there was more than just greed behind the looting. He wrote for The Guardian:
“Despite his unapologetic endorsement of pillaging, after listening to him talk for hours, I couldn’t shake the impression that looters like Dante [a pseudonym] couldn’t just be condemned as opportunistic thieves. His life story was unmistakably dotted with socioeconomic fault lines of Baltimore’s cycle of crime and punishment, lack of opportunity, and recidivist violence.”
On Sunday, MintPress News spoke with Carrié via Skype about his experience in jail, and what he’s learned from covering the Black Lives Matter movement in multiple cities.
MintPress News (MPN): Talk a little bit about your background as a journalist, how you got involved with these protests, how you ended up in Baltimore on April 27.
Shawn Carrié (SC): Well, I’m from New York City, and New York is no stranger to young black men being gunned down by the police, unfortunately. I went to Ferguson during Ferguson October, when they called for solidarity protests to come be with them.
They were calling for the indictment of Darren Wilson. I was also there when it was announced that he was going to be exonerated and the protests around that. So I followed from New York to Ferguson.
I could tell that the Freddie Gray case was going to be a really big story in Baltimore because it’s such a clear case that there was something wrong, and the police narrative just did not add up in any way without you believing in some sort of magic — that someone could sever their own spine by 80 percent.
I could tell by the Friday after Mr. Gray had passed away that I needed to get down there to start talking to people in the community about how they were reacting and what was going to be done about it.
MPN: Tell me a little more about your arrival in Baltimore before the actual events of your arrest. What was it like before?
SC: Even before Freddie Gray died there were protests because within an hour of his arrest — for which the cause has never been substantiated by police — there was outcry in the community over this man who had a severed spine and had gone into a coma, and then died a week later.
It was really when he unfortunately passed away that things started to heat up and started getting attention nationwide. So there had been peaceful protests going on.
I arrived Friday, I believe the 24th. There was a nationwide rally at City Hall that Saturday. The family had called for a sort of calm and no protests on Sunday until he was buried, and it was on Monday that Freddie Gray had his funeral and was buried in the cemetery.
It was really right after the funeral, and just as I was leaving the cemetery that the riots started to break out at Mondawmin Mall.
MPN: Before we get into that — you’re not a member of the larger networks. How did people react to you as a journalist there?
SC: It’s really been a learning process. I learned a lot in Ferguson about coming into a community that I’m not necessarily a part of, and coming in with a camera as a journalist. But at the same time, I’m there with the intention to tell people’s stories and really lift up their voices. Not to come in with an agenda, but to come into a community and request to be welcomed and to extend a hand, really. To make my intentions clear, to introduce myself, show interest in what they have to say, and to listen to them.
I brought the same approach that I had learned a lot about from Ferguson to Baltimore. People are very apprehensive about the mainstream media. They’re apprehensive about reporters who come and stick a camera in someone’s face and ask them very leading questions. They’re very aware that their words can often be twisted in the media and they’re very sensitive to that and a little apprehensive.
What I found is that by approaching people and just making my intentions clear, showing an earnest interest in what they have to say — after I did that I got a really positive response from people.
MPN: Let’s talk about what happened after you got notice that there were riots happening at the mall.
SC: I wasn’t even sure what was going on, I just saw on Twitter that there were rumors of a protest planned at 3 o’clock. So I went down to check it out at the Mondawmin Mall, and I really walked into a scene of mayhem.
The riot police were already in the street lined up, there were already bricks flying at them, people running straight up to the police line and throwing bricks at them, tear gas flying, giant canisters of pepper spray being deployed. It was a melee.
I wasn’t there for more than an hour before police started aggressively clearing the street and pushed the crowd back for a while.
During a moment of calm I joined a group of other journalists, who were on the sidewalk over by the mall, and was taking some photos through the police line.
Being a member of the press didn’t save me. I spoke to the officer who arrested me, and he said: “I don’t know why, they just told me to grab that guy.”
He even seemed like he wanted to cut me loose because he didn’t feel like waiting for a transport vehicle, but the captain told him: “He’s under arrest then he’s under arrest — reporter or not.”
MPN: And then you were taken to jail and held for over 48 hours?
SC: I was held for 49 hours, I believe. I was arrested around 4 o’clock on Monday [afternoon] and didn’t get out until somewhere before 6 [p.m.] on Wednesday. It was there that I really had the opportunity to listen to people because you’re in jail and have nowhere to go.
Everyone I was in with had been arrested for something during the riot. Some for curfew violations — which didn’t start until the day after I was brought in, the curfew started on Tuesday night.
But a lot of people were speaking deeply about what they had done. Some were brazenly open about being involved in rioting and looting. Some had just been walking down the street, didn’t know there was a curfew, didn’t know there was a riot going on, and had been swept up by the police.
I had the opportunity to really listen to people and go deeper than the surface level “rioter/looter” personification. I was really left with the impression that it’s really not a simple situation. Hearing about their life stories and the environment that they’re living it, I really saw there is a much deeper story there.
Of course, with the case of Freddie Gray, people said enough is enough and we’re tired of the police killing us. There was a rush of anger, but there’s a lot more to it than that. The reason people would erupt in a moment of anger and begin looting buildings, really says something about what they’ve been denied.
They’re trying to get out of poverty. I heard people saying that the day after the first round of looting that there was already a black market of sneakers and jewelry on the street that people were selling.
So, there might be someone who is just looting to get a new pair of sneakers, but at the same time, there aren’t jobs. There aren’t educational opportunities. So, some people might see it as an opportunity to come up by looting some stuff and making a couple bucks.
You can say it’s condemnable on one hand, but they might not have the same opportunities as you.
MPN: Baltimore has a history of police violence and brutality. Did you hear stories about from people in jail about how it affected their lives?
SC: I heard a lot of stories both in jail and outside, of cousins, friends, family members being killed by police. Freddie Gray was the seventh person to be killed this year by police, and he’s the latest in a long line over the past several years in Baltimore, and people really did speak about Freddie Gray as a motivator.
He was on the minds of a lot of people, but at the same time you can’t separate the current uprising that was sparked by his death from the mobilizing that community organizations have done in the past.
A lot of people have been saying, “We’ve been marching for years on behalf of people who died at the hands of police and demanding accountability,” but it’s really only now — only when there are black riots in Baltimore — do you see the national media cameras coming into Baltimore. That’s something people expressed a lot as a frustration about, that a lot of attention comes when there’s something very sensational and it’s not really because of the issue at hand of people being killed at the hands of police.
MPN: You’ve been to several of these protests now. What’s connecting all these movements and where might it be going?
SC: Well, there’s a Freddie Gray in every city in America. Every city has their own members of their community who are victims of police brutality. Every community remembers their names and they mean something to a much larger group of people around the country.
People are struggling for the demand that they just don’t want to be killed by the publicly appointed guardians who are supposed to protect them. It’s something that resonates throughout the country, unfortunately, that people still have to demand that they don’t be killed, in the United States of America, in 2015.
MPN: Do you think they’re being heard?
SC: I think that over the past years the conversation really has changed. Social media allows people to become aware and have a broader political awareness that these issues are connected. There’s a widespread, nationwide problem of lack of police accountability. When it happens that someone dies in police custody, police are almost routinely and systematically protected over the citizens who they are supposed to protect.
MPN: What’s next for you? Are you going to be back out at these protests?
SC: I will most certainly continue to follow the issue one way or another. Having suffered a concussion thanks to the Baltimore police, I think I’m going to stay away from Baltimore for a little while. But I definitely want to continue to follow this issue whether in Baltimore or New York City. Unfortunately, a young man was killed in New York City just last week, and I wish I could say this issue wouldn’t come up again.
But it’s tragically going to happen again and it’s important for myself and the media to continue to cover these issues, and to continue researching the law and the data, to build a better understanding so that people realize that this isn’t just isolated cases.
MPN: What else do you want people to know about what happened to you?
SC: While my case might be a little sensational — a reporter who got shot in the head with a rubber bullet and had his 4th, 6th and 8th Amendment rights violated along with my right of habeas corpus denied for 49 hours.
But if it serves to bring attention to the systemic problems that people in Baltimore have been living with — not just recently when we heard about Freddie Gray but for years and years — then I hope to bring attention to that in any way I can.
Watch Carrié’s video of the incident: