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A Real News Town Hall with high school students discussing the murder epidemic in Baltimore

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: This is a long conversation. And we don’t want–in terms of the kind of news we do, we don’t want to just keep talking about how bad things are. We want to talk about what the community can do to change things for the better and what can we do. So if you were running a news network, which I think is a piece of a solution, what do you want us to do? What would you like investigated? What kind of questions do you have you want answered? What kind of debates do you want the community to have? How can we help be a piece of changing the situation for the better?

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: I guess getting on the ground level, going into the communities, where there’s liquor stores, where people are hanging out, just like she was saying how she feels unsafe because you have liquor stores in the community, so that there’s guys hanging–we’ve all seen that. There’s guys who hang outside of the liquor stores all day, and they’re selling drugs or they’re just kind of just loitering around. And it makes you feel uncomfortable just to walk by. And those types of things kind of just deteriorate your community.

So I think getting in, talking to even the owners of the stores–there are only liquor stores in African-American communities. You will not go into a suburban community and find a liquor store in the middle of their block. You will not find a–you know, it’s just certain things that are here in Baltimore that just kind of bring down the communities, because it draws those types of characters, those types of–you know, the drug dealers, the people who are selling this and all those types of people.

JAY: Well, if you take what our friends up top said, both of them, I mean, is part of the setup to get black people, and I would say particularly poor black people, to move out? I mean, I know some of these areas you’ve got to drive forever even to find a grocery store. I mean, all there is is junk food on a corner. You can’t find a place to buy food. I mean, more and more large areas of the city are unlivable. Which is what? That’s a real estate play. Downtown real estate in a lot of cities is the most expensive real estate there is. You’ve got all these jobs downtown. And right now most people are living in the county and have to drive all the way into town. But if you could actually make these cities gentrified, then there’s lots of people who would probably like to live in the city. But you’ve kind of got to get rid of poor people first.

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: So the question is–.

JAY: So it’s not a set up for no reason. It’s a setup cause there’s money to be made.

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: So if we get rid of the poor black people, where would they go? Will we call them?

JAY: Well, if you look at the numbers, actually, a lot of people going back South. So a lot of people–I mean, some people going into Section 8 housing and stuff in the community.

But let me back up one step. That’s a good question. This is actually kind of what I’m looking for. Like, we’re going to go back and go over this whole discussion. So that’s–like, why are people going is a great question. We’ll come back to you with a real answer on that.

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: Alright. I remember my grandmother was talking about /fɛdfild/, over in Cherry Hill. when she was going up growing up over there. And that’s what made me think about the government setup. When they was doing developments over there, apparently–I never heard of Fairfield, but she was telling me about it. She used to live there. And they used to tell me they used to bomb certain–they would literally have bombings in the neighborhood, with chemical reactions and things of that nature. I don’t know if it’s true or not. She tells me things.

JAY: Well, I’ll tell you one thing. We did a story you can watch on our website. It’s called “How Bigotry Shaped Baltimore”. And there’s a guy named Antero Pietila who worked for The Baltimore Sun for a long time, and he wrote this book. They used to do this thing with neighborhoods where they would build this new subdivision, they’d sell houses to all the white families–it was actually–back as early as the ’40s, and then even later in reality, right up until the late ’60s, it was actually illegal, if you bought into one of these places, to sell it to a black family. So these were white-only communities. Then the law changed where you could sell to black families.

So what real estate agents used to do is they would go and they would even buy houses for a couple of black families–real estate speculators–and then they’d spread to all the white families, oh, you’ve got to sell your house right away because black families have moved in. And who did they sell the houses to? To these speculators. And then they’d make a killing turning the houses over, selling them to black families. And they do the whole thing over again. I mean, it’s a setup, but it’s not a set up for no reason. It’s a setup ’cause a lot of money got made in this process.

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: Also, since you said that, I also think people need to be more educated and to stop being so money-hungry about everything. I mean, earlier I was talking about how we have little posters about how people, relatives will buy your house for $1,000 to $5,000. Do your research, know how much your house is worth, because–. And I think this thing is–poverty is also happening, I think, because of the older generation, when they left, they left to their kids. And because everyone would get there fast money, they think $5,000 is okay and it’s worth my house, which they boarded up for years. I’ve been looking at Poplar Grove, Popular Grove Street. Almost half of Poplar Grove is boarded up, all the people’s houses that were sold.

JAY: I’m going to go back to the question earlier. You guys know back in the ’60s the civil rights movement, which achieved something, and people were really–you know, tens of thousands of people, even hundreds of thousands of people, were involved in sort of a collective fight for rights. Why don’t we see that now or more of it now? There’s a little bit, but why don’t we see more of it?

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: If on the TV all we see is rappers and people just saying, like, if you get money, you’ll be happy, like, if we don’t see no reason to fight, why should we fight? And we’re very tech savvy. Even though it might not not seem like it, [our (?)] generation, we’re just plugged in. We need to plug out. And that becomes part of our laziness, ’cause sometimes–I ain’t going to lie–my family members, they always say, go wash the dishes. I’m like, no, I’ve got to–like, I’m always on my phone because–like, and this is just laziness. And we don’t have a reason to fight. That’s what I think.

JAY: Well, I don’t understand. I just heard all the description of problems. Isn’t that a reason to fight?

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: We see the problems. But some people don’t–like, we don’t know the actions to take to fix the problems. We don’t know where to go. We don’t know who to talk to. How? How are we going to get this stuff funded if we don’t have no money to pay our college tuition? College tuition is an arm and a leg. Like, how can we fight one problem when we have another problem, like, in our daily lives? Like, we don’t have time–like, [incompr.] go back to the every man for himself thing. If I–I’m personally–if I had go to college, it is like my whole life I will be paying back tuition. If I have that problem, how am I going to sit here and try to fight for the community, when I’m trying to look out for myself?

JAY: Well, why don’t you fight to lower tuition?


JAY: With other kids in the same situation?

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: Like, where do we start with that? But how when we start with it?

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: [incompr.] Paul Jay.

JAY: No, don’t give the mic away. No, I mean that. I mean, isn’t that part of breaking out of this is that you’ve got to fight? I mean, there are–do you know what happened in Quebec?


JAY: Well, you’ve got to watch The Real News.



JAY: In Quebec, the students were fighting against tuition increases, and they wound up at–they got as many as 300,000 people in the streets. And then the police and the government tried to stop the protests and another 200,000 came. They wound up with 500,000 people in the streets in Montreal and some of the other cities around Quebec. And the actual government actually fell; the government that was going to raise the tuitions actually lost the last election. It was amazing. We did a lot of stories on it.

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: Something to think about.

JAY: Yeah. I mean, I think what you’re saying is all true. So I’m saying you guys can have a news network at your disposal. You have a building. You have a space. What can we do to change the situation?

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: We can find kids worthy, like, who want to see change, to be the voice and be the head leader of this movement. And if they stand up, maybe other kids who are going through the same things and experiencing the same things, they’ll stand up with the leader and join, start something.

JAY: One of the things we want to do is create a safe place and a good place for creating a different kind of culture. Like, there’s some great talent in this city doing socially conscious, politically conscious hip hop and poetry. I don’t think it has–it doesn’t have a place to get out into the community in a bigger way.

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: No one wants to [crosstalk]

JAY: One of the things we’re going to–. Well, I don’t know if no one wants to hear it.

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: Hear what I’m telling you. Like, people, who wants to hear about, you know, stuff that’s happening, real stuff that’s happening in the community. Now, those who like to think, if those who like to think, yeah, fine. But ignorance, I mean, that’s the most [billionaire (?)] around right now. They don’t want to just hear about, oh, I’m struggling to try and feed my baby and things of that nature. I mean, seriously. It’s like we–.

JAY: Well, you say no one, but how many of you would like to hear it?

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: I mean, not no–I’m not going to say no one. But certain people, a lot of people in my generation, a lot of people in my generation–I’m not saying all of us–do not want to hear that. Why do you want to hear that?

JAY: Do you?

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: I love it. I mean, I don’t–I’m not going to, honestly, lie to you. I can’t tell you who the rappers are right now, right now. I don’t listen to any of it. So it’s terrible. I feel bad for our generation now, ’cause, like, we’re talking about this now, and I’m thinking, like, where will we go from here?

JAY: Well, how many people here would like that, to have a place to kind of build a kind of healthier culture for young people?


JAY: Yeah? Well, that’s not a bad beginning, you know?

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: So how could we go about that?

JAY: Well, how about weekly hip hop? How about a whole website dedicated to it?

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: That something to think about.

JAY: Well, how about we build it?


TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: I think the civil rights movement, like, we all think back to what slavery was like and what segregation was like. So now we see what we have, and everybody’s like, oh, we’ve gotten this far, so there’s not really much to complain about it, even though we have a lot of stuff still that’s messed up. So it doesn’t seem as bad as it could be.

And then, as civil rights leaders tend to be, like, these heroic figures, they’re not really human to us. So, like, when she’s saying well, what can I do, I don’t know anything that I can do, like, it’s about making people that are in this struggle and in this movement actual people and humanizing them. Like, you were talking about murder victims aren’t just numbers, that they’re actual people, like, talking about the stories. Like, we just went to the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer and watched the Freedom Summer movie, documentary, and it was, like, actual people, and it was talking about those stories. And our youth came back, they’re like 14 years old, and they’re like, oh, we can do it, like, we can do those things. So if we’re actually seeing stories about people that are doing these amazing things–like, there are definitely people–and a lot of us know some of those people, but actually spreading that information that these are people just like you and you can do the same thing.

JAY: What do people think of that? I think that’s such important point.

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: Yeah, I agree with what /kæt/ said.

And I also think if you get people out to explore different parts of the state or out of the country, I mean, around the country to see what other communities are doing, then you never know. Like, you know, Jim just said a couple of times, tells us all the time that he takes us on trips just so that we can get that glitch for something that we may want to do in life. So I think if we go explore or we go to different communities and things of that nature and we find something, find something that could help us, I really think that that could be a glitch in us, in our minds, and stuff of that nature.

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: So one of the things we have to realize and one of the reasons why people are so disconnected from actually going out and making change is because for most people–or (correction) most poor people, it’s a war of survival. It’s literally a war to make it to the next day and the day after that. And it’s really hard to focus on anything else when you’re more worried about how you’re going to eat and live the next day. And that’s something really vital that people sometimes miss, and it’s depressing. You don’t want to think about how better things can be when you know that your next day is not going to be that. It’s sad. It’s a real thing that you numb yourself to and just know that life is like this and I just have to figure out how to make it to the next day and the day after that, and you take it one day at a time. But it doesn’t allow for that long-term planning and collective vision that would cause another civil rights movement.

JAY: Except–I agree with what you’re saying, but when people did the sit-ins at those lunch counters that black people weren’t allowed to sit in, go to, you know, if you go to the beginnings of the civil rights movement, that was in Southern poverty. I mean, conditions were terrible. And you look at other places in the world where there’s been big transformative movements, it’s often been in places where there’s terrible poverty. And there’s something specific going on here. And I agree with you about this idea of setup. The amount of drugs that came into the communities after the big protests here in the late ’60s, this war on drugs–and this is something we’re going to do a lot of work on. I mean, the war on drugs should have been renamed how can we distribute more drugs.

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: Yes. I’m sorry, but it just bothers me that we supposedly spend all those billions of dollars just to keep drugs out of America. But how is that happening? Every time–I mean, honestly, I get a little irritated about this because [incompr.] war on drugs, on this, and on that. But where is the money going? Are you just giving, paying the–I feel like America’s just paying the distributors more money. That’s revenue.

JAY: Okay. Well, that’s another good question. See, this is what I’m asking for: where is the money going? So we’re going to come back. We’re going to answer that question. Like, we’re going to do investigative work: where is the money going? And then we’re going to come back and we’re going to have town hall debates about what kind of drug policy actually make some sense for the community.

But we know–some of it we’ve done. I mean, a lot of the money’s going to–you know, in terms of building prisons, in terms of the police, in terms of the lawyers and the judges, and it’s a whole superstructure of people making a fortune off drug distribution, not to speak of, of course, the people directly involved in it.

But what other kinds of questions need to be asked in order to get to a vision of a different kind of city?

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: I want to know, how did it get this far? How did all this violence and drugs and things get this far? How did it become–. It just bloomed out of nowhere. I mean, it’s been around, but then it’s been always under the table. We never talked about it. But now it’s, like, everywhere. So how did we get this far? That’s what I want to know, seriously.

JAY: Who else has something they want to know that helps get to solutions?

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: Where are the leaders? And who wants to be a leader? I think that when we talk about the civil rights movement, kind of the transition of leadership, it kind of–there was no transition. Once those leaders were assassinated, once they were gone, there was no passing of the torch down to this generation today. And that’s not to say that there aren’t young leaders in the communities who are doing great things, but I think the presence and the value, just valuing, wanting to be a leader of something, of a movement, of trying to solve issues in the community and stuff like that.

JAY: We were just talking yesterday about having a forum kind of like this, with getting some of the leaders from the civil rights movement to come talk with young people about exactly this question.


TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: Because they need to be trained. Like, we need this generation to be trained up to be leaders. They have to learn those qualities and what it means to be a leader first before they can take on these huge social issues in which they’ll be scrutinized, in which, you know, you’ll be criticized and people will talk about you because you’re, you know, supporting this or that.

But we need more leadership. We need our youth to be groomed to be leaders, especially to take on stuff like that.

JAY: Hang on just one sec. Can we hear from someone else who hasn’t spoken yet? You’ve got a mic.

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: [When you say] moving black people, I mean, poor black people out of the city, I think one of the issues are, like, we don’t try to solve those problems and, I guess, try to help improve those people’s lives. We just think about how could we, like, get rid of them. That was the only thing that I was going to say.

JAY: Why?

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: I don’t know. I mean, I just feel like it’s the system of racism that works that way. But I just–my, really, question that I always ask myself is, like, how did it get this way? And why is it that other poor black people don’t want to look out for each other? Which I understand that it’s like you’ve got to live for yourself and you know poverty and you’ve got to think about how you’re going to eat. So I understand all of that. But when you look back to, like, way back in the day when there was Black Wall Street–and a lot of those people were poor back then, too, but they still supported each other any way that they could.

JAY: Listen, there’s whole sections of Baltimore, I mean, at least half, half of black Baltimore, maybe more, is not living in poverty. I mean, at least half the city has jobs, and the neighborhoods are–you drive through them; they look great. You know, the houses are well kept and so on and so on. What is the culture like there in terms of violence? Is this violence issue mostly concentrated in the most poorest areas? Or is it also in fact spreading into other sections of the community?

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: I think you wherever you go, you’re going to have violence, honestly. For certain things, you’re going to have certain issues and things of that nature. But when we’re talking about killing people over little stupid things and over drugs, it’s crazy. And repeat your question again [incompr.]

JAY: Well, I mean, if you look at the numbers, something like 49 percent of the city is living below the poverty line. But that means half the city’s not. Now, let’s say there’s–20, 30 percent of the city is white. But even in the white population of the city, there’s a lot of people living in poverty–less whites living in poverty, but not only. So my point is is there’s whole sections of the city that are black working-class. They work at Social Security or they have fairly decent jobs. I mean, how many of you come from those kinds of families?


JAY: Not rich. I mean working-class.


JAY: I say working-class, you know, families that have working-class jobs and go to work every day and don’t live in, like, the deepest poverty. So that’s most of you. But you’ve still all been touched by this violence.

Alright. Go on.

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: Yeah. One thing I would really like to know is, going back on what people said about why aren’t we fighting to better the community or why aren’t we doing anything to better the community, and you said the greatest upheavals of government come from the weakest point, like, the poorest parts of–.

JAY: No, not always. I just said–but many have.

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: Yeah, many have, like, if we take a look at different countries, how they overthrew government. But, like, are we just afraid of our government to kind of set up things like that? Or if things are happening like that in other countries and we’re supporting the people doing those things to kind of overthrow their dictatorial governments, why can’t we do that in our government if we want to change something? I mean, it’s basically going down to are we afraid of the people protecting us, or do we just not care about other people, like everybody was saying, are we just numb to the fact of we have to take care of our community. Like, why can’t we rise up and change the simple things around our community while other people can change their whole nation?

JAY: What do people think is the answer to that? Or other questions?

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: Can I say one thing?

What I can see in Baltimore is that people my age, teens and youth, they will say, I can’t wait until I get out of Baltimore, instead of saying, how can I help Baltimore. They’ll always try to–like, how people will say that they’re looking out for their self. So they do what they can to get out of Baltimore and then just leave Baltimore just to be in that bad state instead of helping it and making Baltimore a place where they will want to live. So that’s what I think, why people wouldn’t–that’s why I think people don’t come together, ’cause they’re focused on getting out of Baltimore, reaching another level or reaching another state/city instead of helping Baltimore getting to that point where people can live in there and be safe.

JAY: So, if you’re helping us run a news network, what should we do about it? How can we help? I mean, you guys can help work with us if you want, and we have people that are journalists and producers, and we can do town halls, we can investigate things. And I think we can get a big presence in Baltimore. But what would you like to see?

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: I would like to see how we–like, how Ms. Deanna said about getting black leaders to groom black youth and interviewing them and putting it–like, making it viral, I guess, ’cause I want, like, not just people involved in media to say it, but also people all over Baltimore to see it. I’m trying to think. Just so they can see how we need to help Baltimore, because most people don’t know the issues and, like, most people don’t know how to help. They just know the crime. They don’t know the positive side or how they could help Baltimore.


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Paul Jay was the founder, CEO and senior editor of The Real News Network, where he oversaw the production of over 7,000 news stories. Previously, he was executive producer of CBC Newsworld's independent flagship debate show CounterSpin for its 10 years on air. He is an award-winning documentary filmmaker with over 20 films under his belt, including Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows; Return to Kandahar; and Never-Endum-Referendum. He was the founding chair of Hot Docs!, the Canadian International Documentary Film Festival and now the largest such festival in North America.