“Break that lock, break that lock!” cried hundreds of protesters at a Halloween rally on Monument Street in Baltimore, Md., as protestors broke through the gate of an empty lot. The crowd was frustrated with the new $104 million dollar youth prison that is going to be built there.
The protesters assembled in a football field near the proposed youth detention center. At the rally, representatives from all over Baltimore spoke, sang, rapped and read poetry. The event was opened with joint Christian and Muslim prayers, showing the diversity of Baltimore and its youth.
When asked for comment, a young protester who did not want to be identified said, “I’m educated by Baltimore City Public Schools and if we put more money into our education system we wouldn’t have to be building this prison!”
One of the speakers also made the point that this center had been planned for years and that “when they were planning to build it, the people who would occupy it hadn’t even been born.”
Hundreds of people, young and old, Black and white, Christian, Muslim and atheist, all marched to the site together holding candles in honor of all the youth currently locked up in Baltimore’s prisons. The solemn tone quickly turned to righteous indignation as the protesters reached the lot for the proposed youth jail.
Shouting “Education not incarceration!” and other slogans, the protesters busted out the bolt cutters and started their work. Prepared to face the consequences of breaking into a gated fence – which read “State Property” – they quickly made their way through. They symbolically “liberated” the site by driving the protest signs into the ground and leaving a plastic bin full of books, arguing that the lot should become the “Baltimore City Youth Education Center” instead a jail for young people.
Despite alerting the police in advance to the civil disobedience, not a single police officer attended the rally or turned out to arrest anyone. Some suggested that this was a show of solidarity from a police force that is suffering from the tough economic times as well and unhappy that the city found $100 million dollars to build a new prison but can’t pay them a fair wage. Still others suggested that it was simply an attempt to prevent the protest attracting much press attention.
Baltimore was ranked fourth in a list of America’s worst cities for urban youth. It has a 41 percent high school graduation rate and African American youth make up 43 percent of the juvenile detention population, higher than any other group. With statistics like these working against young people, and especially inner-city youth, the answer, the youth prison’s opponents say, is not new jails but new schools.
Baltimore Algebra Project, Sisters 4 Sisters, Faith in Action and many more locally-based organizations sponsored the rally and local pastor Heber Brown emceed the event. Pastor Brown is well known in Baltimore and has worked on many political actions, most notably the Gaza aid flotilla that was attacked by Israeli commandos. Luckily, the pastor was in Turkey at the time of the attack.
Organizers argue that the government should invest money in young people – not lock them away.