I don’t know shit about Baltimore

by Janelle Hanchett

I know a few things. I’ve studied them, or better yet, felt them. I’ve watched, heard about them. Better still, lived them. I know a few things.

But I don’t know shit about Baltimore.

I know CNN and Fox are liars, and they don’t know shit about Baltimore either.

I watch people talk.

Here’s a thread of women analyzing whether the mother who “beat” her kid for attempting to join the riots was right or wrong. As if that’s the fucking point. Perhaps turn that white gaze inward.

I’m pretty sure they don’t know shit about Baltimore.

Here’s the “violence is never the answer people.” That sounds nice. It would be even nicer if it were true. Violence, it seems to me, is America’s go-to move, abroad, and at home, among the subaltern, the black and brown poor.

Now you speak up. Now that CVS was injured. Now all of a sudden you care about their “neighborhood” and “property.”

Their lives though? Nah. Still not on the radar.

Where were you on violence when these children and men were killed, unarmed?

You don’t know shit about Baltimore either.

That’s for darn sure.

I read people saying the “rioters” are disgracing blacks, and I wonder why I never read the same about whites, when they burn and loot and break shit because their sports team didn’t win.

Do we call them “animals?” “Thugs?”(just use the “n-word.” it’s way more honest.)

I watch whites cling to the people of color in agreement with them, the ones yelling “looting is not the answer.”

“Look! A real black person agrees with me!” (definitive proof that they are correct, obvs.)

But I wonder if those people, whatever color, know shit about Baltimore, or West Baltimore, to be exact.

As in: Disenfranchised people of color living in poverty, geographically and systematically removed from that which “we” (those of us not in their shoes) see, that which we know, that which we understand to be “life.”

And “America.”

Centuries of removal.


I move in, I move out. Maybe today I think about race. Maybe I don’t.

My newsfeed was eerily silent on Walter Scott, except from my black and brown friends. It occurs to me how choosy white liberals are. So enlightened, when it’s convenient.

I do it too. It sickens me.

A student told me during a class discussion about racism: “You get to not think about this if you don’t want to. I have to live it. Every day. No matter what.”

Her eyes were tired.

I leaned against the whiteboard (ironically) and couldn’t talk.

She said it all.


This ain’t no ivory tower material. These are lives. These are lives that are not mine.

I have no capacity to understand any of it unless I shut the hell up and listen to people who know something about Baltimore.


I read these words the past couple days, between driving my kids around and not worrying about getting shot:

The Baltimore Protests are About Freddie Gray and So Much More and Freddie Gray’s Death & Baltimore’s Ongoing State of Emergency by Arnebya Herndon.

Black America’s Baltimore schism: Why the Freddie Gray tragedy demands more serious soul-searching by Brittney Cooper, PhD.

This FB post by Erika Nicole Kendall. (Note: This now links to her blog since FB apparently deleted her post, which is a whole different problem, I think.)

And this one by Feminista Jones.

In support of Baltimore: Or; Smashing Police Cars is Logical Political Strategy by Radical Faggot

This Twitter essay by Jesse Williams

Nonviolence as Compliance, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Brutality of Police Culture in Baltimore by Conor Friedersdorf

Eyewitnesses: The Baltimore Riots Didn’t Start the Way You Think  by Sam Brodey & Jenna McLaughlin


It’s not lost on me that I’m SPEAKING (writing) the words “I need to shut up and listen.” In other words, not shutting up.

But silence seemed wrong. Silence feels like compliance. Silence could be listening and learning or it could be quiet derision, or ignoring, because I can. Because it’s comfortable and easy from a place of race and class privilege.

I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t say a word. Who cares? It does not matter. My voice is not the one to be heard, here.

I don’t know shit about Baltimore.


Do you?



45 Comments | Posted in politics | April 29, 2015
  • itzybellababy

    Yep- I don’t know shit either.
    I didn’t post of blog about the topic. For me, I had nothing to say. I feel sad for loss and frustration. I cannot judge and I don’t want to be judged.
    Thanks for your honesty, as always:)

  • Laura

    I live in Baltimore. No, you don’t know shit about it. I’m white (so clearly am not allowed to have an opinion), but I’m sick of the “poor victim” card that the black people here are always playing. You know how to keep the cops from beating your ass? Stop manufacturing and selling narcotics. Maybe they think you’re running for a good reason if you have a rap sheet as long as your arm. Should they have killed him? Absolutely not. The officers have been suspended and are being investigated. That is how law works. We aren’t vigilantes. We have a black president. Baltimore has a black mayor. There are black doctors, black lawyers, black business people, and on and on. But if you drop out of school and sell drugs instead, your future isn’t too bright. There are plenty of white people making the same stupid decisions. It has nothing to do with race and everything to do with lack of personal responsibility and an “us vs them” victim mentality. Here in Baltimore, black people kill far more black people than white people, cops or otherwise.

    • renegademama

      Dear Laura,

      Thank you for being a perfect – AND I MEAN PERFECT – example of the problem. I could not have written it better myself.


      • Lola

        i thought for certain laura was being satirical… and then i remembered i’m too much of a fucking optimist.

      • amanda phillips

        Perfect article, perfect quote/photo and perfect response to an all too perfect example of the ignorance of privilege and arrogance of proximity.
        My hat is off to you, Janelle – well done!

    • Kerry

      I used to think like this. Then I lived in a place, with an income, and opportunities like what these children are born into. You have no idea until you’ve been there. And I was lucky because I’m white *yes, sarcasm* and I had all kinds of hands reaching down to pull me out. And let me tell you – it didn’t make one bit of difference how many white women were lawyers and doctors and whatever else. God, could you be more ignorant??!

    • KATY

      I also live in Baltimore, Laura. I am also white. What I can’t understand is how my friends that are not white should expect to be targeted every time they leave home. They finished high school, they are attending college, they are black, they are stopped more often than my white friends who have, quite literally, “a rap sheet as long as their arm” longer in fact.
      Maybe instead of blaming “poor black” people for the circumstances in which we live, we could help them out of those circumstances. Take it from a situation of helplessness of the non-white to a situation in which there is truly no “us and them”.

      Maybe I’m missing the point of the article, but blaming these poor children whose parents work their asses off to support the children is not the way to fix everything. I confess, I don’t know everything about Baltimore, even living in it: I am white- not black, not brown, therefore I have inherent privileges. Like not needing to fear cops when I decide to run to the drug store.

  • Baltimoregal

    Shut up Laura. You ARE shit.

  • Emily Donahue

    You hit it as usual. I think white sports fans are the ultimate animals and hypocrites. I am forced to think very hard about Baltimore since my husband has virtually not left since Monday and I won’t be seeing much of him until I dont know when. He is not a brave first responder on the front lines. The very ones who very well may have gotten us into this mess, but a lowly General Manager of a hotel at the Harbour who is responsible for the guests, the employees and the well being of the hotel. I have prayed for the first time since my daughter had open heart surgery for not only him but for all involved. This was a time bomb waiting to go off. Freddie was the straw that broke the camels back. I had a very honest talk with my lovely mail carrier who grew up in the very neighborhoods that were destroyed on Monday and I so get the frustration and I so do not get it because I am a white girl from a privileged neighborhood.
    This has certainly hit home and I am scared for me and mine, for our livelihood and for this country. Thank you once again for you being you

  • Arabella

    actually I do. I’ve lived here for 17 years. It’s my home. I’ve lived 5 or 6 blocks from where that CVS is. I love this city so damn much. It’s a wonderful, ugly, beautiful, broken, United, complicated and yet simple city. It’s a small city. It’s my home. I can’t say anything useful because I….I just can’t right now.

  • Leslie

    I thought this was a good one: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/nonviolence-as-compliance/391640/

    And I did write about that mom, but NOT from the perspective of judging whether she was right or wrong, but rather to express my discomfort with the public reaction to the video.

    • renegademama

      Yes! I read that one too. Will edit to add to the list. Thank you.

    • Emily

      I’d like to read your post. Can you put in a link? We’re still making judgments, aren’t we? Constantly filtering other people’s experiences for the benefit of the world, because clearly society is just a database whose inputs need sanitizing. We are very focused on ourselves, but in a shallow way. If we’re going to spend so much time putting ourselves at the center of things, we have a perfect opportunity to actually look at what we’re doing and how we’re reacting and what that says about us. Particularly whether that’s an “us” we really want to be.

  • llirpa

    I appreciate your empathy and courage

  • Beck

    I don’t know shit about Baltimore. But I do know about a family friendly teach-in and march in Oakland on May 9th. https://www.facebook.com/events/376980682509246/

  • MIkaela

    Thanks Janelle –

    You wrote something about the subject that finally hasn’t angered me. Almost 97% of the opinions being offered are by people who really don’t get to have an opinion. Your approach of shut up and learn something is precisely my jam.

    Keep up the good work dear. It is good, and sorely needed.

  • Debra

    The Facebook post by Erika Nicole Kendall is gone.

  • Kerry Murray

    I live in Baltimore City and the looters got some of my favorite stores and restaurants. We went out to check on them, help clean up and offer support but our neighbors beat us to the clean up part.

    I work with teenagers here, some of whom are from West Baltimore. My connection to Mondawmin Mall is that is my favorite city Target and was a mile from my first house here, how mundane…

    Oddly, I never wanted yo move here. We were living a great life in Cape Town, South Africa, a place that has similar issues of huge inequality. I came because my husband got his dream job and well I reluctantly followed with our son.

    The crazy thing is that these protests, riots, neighborhood clean ups and organized drumlines, dance teams and roller disco at North and Penn (site of burned CVS) as well as the my connecting with my neighbors as we come together to sort out how we can contribute something positive to this decades-in-the-making mess has endeared me to Baltimore and for the first time since we arrived in October of 2013, I’m willing to put down some roots and get involved.

    Oh, and I unfriended every single person on my FB feed who used the word “animals” to describe the people of Baltimore. I might of missed a teachable moment with one or two of them but much happier to remove the source of distracting noise.

    I feel for Baltimore residents whose safety and livelihoods are threatened. There will most likely be more fire when the results of the city investigation into Freddie Gray’s death are released. I’ll be holding you close and out to help in the daylight hours.

    Thanks for an excellent post. I’ve been just passing through Baltimore all this time and didn’t know shit either but now I’m paying attention and the city has much to teach.

    • Denise


  • Jessica

    The whole thing just makes me very very sad. It’s all gray area. I have lived in Maryland my whole life and a lot of my friends live in Baltimore and I still don’t know shit about Baltimore. I’m also a white girl, so I don’t know shit about racism. I do know shit about being poor, and it sucks. It sucks hard. I could throw out all sorts of ideas and concepts and opinions, but it’s better just to admit that at the end of the day, none of us know shit.

  • Annie Reneau

    I love this so much. I feel the same way – wanting to say something, but knowing I’m not the voice that needs to be heard. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who won’t simply won’t hear those voices, which is precisely the problem. Well done speaking out without speaking over.

  • SC

    How ironic that folks jumped on the bandwagon to shame and bully Laura into shutting up, simply because she is a White person from Baltimore and therefore had no opinion worth hearing. Both sides have now reinforced the other’s belief that anyone with a different opinion is hateful and wrong.

    What degree of proximity is necessary before a person’s opinion gets to count? And more importantly, who’s the gatekeeper? Does Oprah get to weigh in because she’s Black, or does she also get shut down because she’s rich and far away?

    Ultimately, ideas – and the facts and evidence behind them, open to challenge and debate – should be far more important to any discussion than the enforced “correctness” of the speaker’s identity.

    • renegademama


      Laura’s opinion is not invalid because she’s white. It’s invalid because it’s ignorant and racist.


      • SC

        That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

        Laura raised several provocative points regarding the role of personal responsibility and respect for the rule of law. You clearly have a different take on the matter. But instead of addressing her points, having a thoughtful discussion, and perhaps even finding some common ground, you chose to engage in ad hominem attacks.

        Since it’s your blog, you’re the gatekeeper. But I find it ironic that you claim to be committed to “truth” in writing and then proceed to aggressively belittle someone whose own “truth” is at odds with yours.

        • renegademama

          I am committed to telling my truth and calling out bullshit, not wasting my time attempting to educate the willfully ignorant. She spoke her truth. I spoke mine. I see no problem there. Neither of us are obligated to stroke the other’s ego.

          And my comment was not passive aggressive. It was direct and honest. I am genuinely grateful for her succinct depiction of the racist narratives we are fighting against, lest people forget they exist.

          • Adri

            You accused her of racism for having a different views; that’s not courageous, nor is it honest. It’s ignorant.

            • heather

              Gr8 post Janelle!…SC: How can anyone respect the “the rule of law” that punishes + kills people based on poverty + the color of peoples skin? Open ur eyes + mind, din’t follow the media

            • Emily

              Well, technically, if one considers that people of all races are equal and should be afforded equal benefit of the doubt and agency, and someone “simply has different beliefs,” that person is the definition of racist.

              It’s not racist to think that black people should act responsibly. I think that white people should act responsibly, as well. That’s not racist. It’s bigoted to look at someone else’s reaction to a problem and assume that your opinion of their reaction is more valid than theirs. When that assumption is an artifact of racial dividing lines, particularly when you’re not willing to brook any recognition that you face different social forces than they do, then, yes, that’s racist.

      • Adri

        So people who disagree with you and believe in looking beyond the views expressed by the media are racist?
        Got it; thanks for being part of the problem.

        • renegademama

          No. People who deploy racist master narratives are, um, racist. If you can’t see how Laura’s sweeping generalizations about black people are mired in bigotry and ignorance, then I absolutely cannot help you, and I imagine no amount of logic or discussion can. I suggest reading some African American scholars, or, now here’s an idea: any of the pieces I linked above.

          But thank you for commenting. I’m going to bow out of this conversation now, since beating a dead horse has never been a compelling pastime of mine.


  • Kimberly

    As a white women from Maine, I had no idea how many racist friends I had until now. I wonder to myself if these cops were shooting white women how would I feel. How would my friends feel? Would they still be saying the same things? Calling women animals? How would the media and society be reacting? It is the only way I can relate, and the answers help me realize how much further we need to travel for race equality.

  • Amanda Phillips

    Irony: Every time somebody uses the justification “we have a black president” to suggest equality in America, they disprove their assertion. Until the color of the president’s skin is not noteworthy, race is playing a part in the mentality of the commentator = racist (by definition, and not always negatively). Equally, until Hillary Clinton is referred to as a candidate, rather than female candidate, true equality of the sexes is also unrealised. But that’s another can of worms…

  • Kesha

    Looting the businesses and community you live in, hurting your fellow citizens in your community then saying you care about that community makes no sense. Your not hurting “The Man” your hurting yourself and the people you say you care about. It only shows the rest of the world that you don’t believe your community is worth anything and if you don’t think your community is worth it why would anyone else. The way yoy show your community support will never be by tearing it appart.

  • Emily

    Thanks for the links. I’ll look forward to doing that reading when I get home tonight.

    I’m white and try to educate myself. I bought a book that I think will help me educate my kids–I know that the likelihood is that even what they get during Black History Month will be inadequate, to say the least. (It’s this one. http://www.amazon.com/Things-Everyone-African-American-History/dp/038548576X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1430492582&sr=8-1&keywords=facts+about+african+american+history It’ll give us a place to start, at least.) But you have to work to keep yourself educated. You have to find people you enjoy on YouTube and Twitter and follow them, and listen to all the different stuff they talk about. (I now know way more than I expected to about caring for natural hair, and as a bonus I understood why the Air Force hair standard change was controversial for black women when I heard the story.)

  • Rachael Egan

    As a white woman, if I lived in a place where police were shooting, suffocating, breaking the necks of my kids, friends, and neighbors who’d been systematically forced in to a state of poverty, fear, and hopelessness for their entire lives, – I’m afraid I’d be the first to burn down the CVS. Because I am white and live in another universe, I get to watch it on TV.

  • HelenAnn

    This article is shit. and I’m sick of people using the poor, black, victim bullshit. I don’t care what color you are, if u act like a savage be prepared to be treated like one

  • HelenAnn

    How is it everyone is still talking race? There were 6 cops involved. 3 blacks and 3 whites…the person who was charged the most was a black cop! Stop the insanity people! It’s not a race issue. It an abuse of authority issue.

    • Kerry

      It’s all about the money money money.

  • Laura

    Thanks so much for writing this, Janelle, and for thinking so critically before doing so. Reading the comment section here gave me a flashback to my FB news feed, which served a hearty dose of disappointment.

    The links you’ve provided were carefully selected in order to address many of the dissenting platitudes expressed, but, alas, many failed to read them and jumped to respond. I think this is indicative of the approach to their personal analysis (if it can be called that).

    Again, THANK YOU for writing and posting.

    A different Laura

  • Linda

    It is interesting that you used this quote from Martin Luther King Jr. about riots. Out of context, it can be used to support either side of the riot debate. But, within context, he is admonishing rioters. The quote itself, is taken from an interview he gave on why he opposes riots. He was always and everywhere against violent riots. Yes, he understands that society causes the frustrations, and that each man needs to look within himself to see how each of us contributes to the problems. But, he always believed in peaceful protest, not violent rioting. When he uses the term “language of the unheard”, he is saying that even if the message is correct, it will not be heard because of the violence. He is making the point that violent riots are useless, and set the oppressed backwards, not forwards. He often is quoted as saying we cannot drive out hatred with more hatred. Only love can do that.

    I would never claim that these rioters, as individuals as well as collectively, do not have cause for their pain and frustration. But adding to the hatred, the violence, the revenge, only deepens the pit, instead of rising above it. As does the violence our government so eagerly engages in. Citing that violence does not justify more violence. Our government gets it wrong too. 5,000 dead Americans from our jaunt in Iraq. And the cities are taken over by worse factions now. Just as in Vietnam before, those deaths are for nothing. That violence had no purpose, except to multiply the deaths. Violence is not the answer. It wasn’t in Vietnam, it wasn’t in Iraq. And it’s not in Baltimore. That was always the message of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Tina

    I must have missed this post first time around (BTW, now that I’ve scrolled back through the posts, I must say a big old “thank you” for adding dates of blogs). In the timeframe of the last year, I think there wasn’t as much seen on facebook about Walter Scott is because the police force immediately went into the “this is wrong” stance, and within days, the officer was arrested. With that list of cases you linked to, I would have liked to have seen more of an explanation of each case (which you can’t possibly provide), because I can even think about whether even a portion of them were justified (although it’s unforgivable that an officer “accidentally” shot a handcuffed man when he went to use his Taser instead – and that’s not the last time it happened. There should have been an involuntary manslaughter charge on that – yes, it was an accident, but considering the two devices feel completely different, it’s not likely one would get them confused – and that’s happened again, since Freddy Gray, I think in Texas with a reserve police officer). And remember, what we see on national media, and what we see even local people screaming, doesn’t always add up to what actually happened – take the Michael Brown case. The grand jury case went on so long because so many people came forward as witnesses, gave statements to the police, and then when they got on the stand, they either didn’t see it, or didn’t see all of it, or they flat out admitted that they just told the police what someone else had told them. The only person that we know of that continued to lie on the stand was Dorian Johnson, the person with Mike Brown at the time of the shooting, and forensic evidence shows that what Johnson stated, what he testified to, didn’t happen, period.
    As far as the riots, etc. Yeah, I watched the riots, and thought it was ridiculous – and it’s escalated to the point that even when police officers shoot armed suspects shooting at them, we get riots with property damage. In Ferguson, other than the first night, a lot of the rioters, not the protesters, came in from out the area, out of state, etc., with the express purpose of starting the rioting/looting, etc. And in every Mike Brown riot since then, except, I guess the night the grand jury verdict was read, it has always been people outside of the area coming in to start the looting and rioting, getting off on the violence and smashing and grabbing as much as they can. Over the course of year, after being damaged in the riots three separate times, a couple of businesses finally decided they couldn’t make it back. They’d been broken into, all of their stock stolen twice, and then the third time, they were burned out. And these were favored establishments of the Ferguson community. It frustrates me that, “Hands up, Don’t shoot” became a national outcry of every police shooting because of Ferguson, yet forensically it was proven that his hands were not up. And now the life of the officer that shot him in self defense is ruined, he’s had to move out of state, and while being a police officer is all he wanted to be, he says he can’t be a police officer anymore. If any community member would find that he’s “THAT Darren Wilson”, it would cause hostility with the community and the city. Not to mention, he doesn’t know if he could ever pull the trigger on the job again – which could make him a liability. He and his family are in hiding, and are still getting death threats.

  • Tina

    Forgot to say – sports fan that riot and tear down the city when their team looses (or even wins) the national championship? Freaking idiotic. What a better way to show your team spirit than by destroying the city which they represent? Must make the team feel really good. I’m not saying St. Louis is perfect – I know when the Rams (long time ago) and the Cardinals have lost a couple of times fans took to the streets, but I just remember a bunch of yelling and screaming, I don’t remember it being what you see in some cities where the whole city is darn near on fire.