There’s a name we haven’t heard in quite a while, eh? With all of the riots going on in the streets of American cities these days, it could be easy to forget that this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Back in 2015, when the Black Lives Matter movement was still in its nascent stages, the city of Baltimore was going up in flames (in several places literally) as crowds of rioters gathered to protest the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. What followed next was a tour de’ force of bureaucratic mismanagement on the part of the city’s leaders. In some ways, Charm City has never really recovered in full from that debacle.
But one question has remained over the years, despite all of the investigations and reports that followed. How and where did the riots actually start? There’s been a general consensus that the first violence broke out on April 27, 2015 in the Mondawmin neighborhood in or around the MTA station near the Mondawmin Mall. Since there were surveillance cameras running in the station around the clock, it seemed obvious that some hints might be found in those recordings. But for five years, Maryland Transit Administration officials have refused to release the video footage to the public, citing only “security concerns.” But now they have allowed the Baltimore Sun to view – but not make copies of – the footage they have from the time of those events. Sadly, what the reporters saw will likely only produce more questions than answers.
In the security video, MTA police can be seen clearing people from the station within a minute of a group of youth running through it, at a time when officials say looting and rock-throwing was occurring on the periphery. That activity cannot be observed in view of the cameras, though hundreds of youth can be seen congregating away from the station.
Since 2015, the incident has been the subject of dueling narratives: that teens intent on carrying out a “purge” that was allegedly advertised on social media flooded the transit station and attacked police; or that students who use the transit hub to get home were stranded and provoked by police when the station was shut down preemptively.
Neither police nor transportation officials have ever said who ordered the shutdown, nor has it been substantiated whether the “purge” meme was widely shared or had traction among youth. Elected leaders showed no interest in getting to the bottom of either question.