By Christian Jones
Morgan State University was the site of a televised town hall meeting hosted by TV One newsman Roland Martin to discuss fundamental issues of the black community in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray.
Called “State of Emergency: Baltimore and Beyond,” the gathering, held in the Murphy Fine Arts Center, drew national figures such as Ben Jealous, former president of the NAACP, and locals ranging from Carl Stokes, a member of the City Council, to Tawanda Jones, the sister of Tyrone West, another black man who died while being arrested by Baltimore police. Several young men wearing the colors of the Crips and Bloods gangs sat near students, retired police officers, lawyers and preachers.
Morgan’s president, David Wilson, also participated in the two-hour session. Topics ranged from police brutality to personal responsibility, with elected officials such as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the faith community and legacy civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, taking their share of blame for the ineffectiveness.
Martin, the host of TV One’s daily show News One Now, opened the meeting with the topic of police aggression in a city with a police force of more than 3,000 officers. Motivational speaker and BET TV personality, Jeff Johnson, a Baltimore resident, questioned the trust of law enforcement.
“You don’t even begin to have trust restored until police officers go to jail,” Johnson said to applause. “If we continue to send police officers to control communities versus to serve them, there will be no trust.”
The concentration of police officers in Baltimore is higher than cities that are much larger, according to Martin.
Police brutality has systematic roots that are not only implanted into white, but blacks as well, a retired Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy said, admitting to bigotry among his old black colleagues due to self-hate.
“The cops inherit a system that is racist and looks at the black people as potential threats and as suspicious,” said retired officer, Cleo Manago.
Ashley Overbey, who described herself as a victim of extreme police brutality, shared her story. After an officer forced himself into her home after she complained of robbery, two officers arrested and beat her for resisting arrest.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Imani Brown, Morgan State student, said she had expected a different outcome from the meeting.
“I was here because I thought this was going to be more action driven,” she said. “You know, we’ve had a lot of discussions and a lot of walks. I felt like this was another opportunity for us to start putting things into plan.”