Tensions Rise In Wake of Baltimore Protests, Riots; Campus Dialogue Planned
On Wednesday, April 29, students and staff arrived to the Lane Center to find the sidewalk graffitied in what appears to be a political statement. The northwestern entrance to the student union, facing the Lewis J. Ort Library and Fine Arts building, featured the following words spray-painted on the sidewalk: “Black Lives Still Matter #FreddieGray #Baltimore #Hidden Agenda #Wake Up.” The black paint apparently was placed there before students arrived on campus on Wednesday morning.
The graffiti refers to the ongoing riots and protests in Baltimore, Maryland, which resulted from the April 19 death of Freddie Gray, a 25 year-old African American male who died of a spinal injury while in Baltimore police custody. The details of Gray’s death are still not known, but peaceful protests, in addition to violent riots and looting carried out by individuals whom Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake referred to as “thugs” in a Monday night press conference, have escalated tensions in the city and around the country.
Shaniya Johnson, newly-appointed President of FSU’s Black Student Alliance, made the following statement to The Bottom Line concerning the graffiti: “Although black lives do still matter and always will matter, graffiti and vandalism are not the solution. Although graffiti is an art form and is typically used as an [emotional] outlet, vandalizing school property is not the way to get your point across. The fact that black lives are being taken has clearly started an uproar, and has begun to galvanize African-American youth far and wide.”
While a Bottom Line reporter was taking the above photograph of the graffiti outside of the Lane Center, a student walked out of the student union building and proceeded to throw his entire drink on the graffiti. The reporter covering the event witnessed the student pour his drink on the message in what appeared to be a decisively deliberate action. The student continued to walk away and did not respond to students who attempted to speak with him.
Rob Webber, Director of the Lane University Center, stated that the graffiti must have been placed on the sidewalk between the hours of 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday night and 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Webber immediately informed campus police, as well as campus administrators. Due to the permanent nature of spray paint, Webber states that the “people who have seen it, from the administrative perspective,” understand that it needs to be removed. However, it’s removal is not intended to suppress free speech, Webber states, but rather to preserve the campus environment from public destruction and defacement.
The Bottom Line spoke with campus police about the graffiti and the ongoing situation in Baltimore. Police Chief Smith pointed to “Frostburg Cares” as a valuable opportunity for dialogue and expression concerning these current events. The event, to be held on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Lane University Center ARMAH, will attempt to provide a forum for discussing the death of Freddie Gray and the ensuing protests and violence. Police Chief Smith will be attending the event as Chief of Police but primarily, according to Chief Smith, “because I care.”
The Bottom Line reached out to the office of Student Affairs, which has been in a continuing dialogue with campus police. Jeff Graham, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, discussed both the graffiti and Frostburg Cares with The Bottom Line. Concerning the graffiti, Graham expressed the University’s “concern with the message” and content of the graffiti, acknowledging that it is part of a larger dialogue both on campus and nationwide. However, the graffiti remains “a violation of public law” and newly-appointed Interim President and current Vice President of Student Affiars Dr. Thomas Bowling has requested that the graffiti be removed by tomorrow morning. In it’s stead, chalk will replace the paint and will advertise “Frostburg Cares.”
“Frostburg Cares,” an event spearheaded by Dr. Bowling, was pulled together “in less than 48 hours.” Meetings were held to plan the event and contained individuals representative of a variety of different populations on campus and in the community. Members of the Cumberland NAACP and the Frostburg Black Student Alliance were in attendance, in addition to the FSU Diversity Center Coordinator Robin Wynder. Dr. Bowling, who has facilitated this discussion, was also present.
In the meetings, it was proposed that the University cancel all classes in the 2:00 p.m. block on Thursday, in an effort to obtain a large amount of the student population at the event. However, it was deemed by those at the meeting that a 6:00 p.m. meeting time would be more appropriate, to avoid “faculty pushback” concerning the end of the semester rush. Additionally, the merits of a “mandatory” event were weighed. While it is desirable to have in attendance a group of students representative of the university, the desire for “students engaged in this discussion” outweighed the need for the entire student population to attend. In order for a “meaningful and educational” event to happen, it is most important for students “who want to be heard to have a safe place with many different perspectives.”
When asked about the student who discarded his drink on the graffiti, Graham stated that the student is welcome at tomorrow’s dialogue and is the kind of student “we would invite to the event… and want [him] to come and be self-reflective about their feelings and biases.” The student’s action, Graham asserts, displays the intensely “polarized state” of the country at the moment.
Students, faculty, staff, and members of the community are encouraged to attend “Frostburg Cares” on Thursday evening at 6 p.m. in the Lane Center’s Alice Manicur Assembly Hall. Advertised as an opportunity for our campus community to “come together to reflect and gain insight on the events in Baltimore,” the event should allow individuals to “take this opportunity to show [they] care and find ways to help.”