Article28 Elijah Miles2

Scholar Elijah Miles

FIGHT” or “FLIGHT” is a natural response to grief, trauma, fear, and danger.  “FLIGHT” is likely what caused Freddie Gray to run from Baltimore city police officers on April 12th, 2015.  “FIGHT” is likely what happened during any moment of resistance before Alton Sterling was shot and killed by a Baton Rouge, Louisiana police officer on July 5th, 2016. “FIGHT” is likely what led to the Baltimore protests after Gray’s death.  “FIGHT” is likely what has led to protests after Sterling’s death. “FLIGHT” is likely what causes many Baltimoreans, to share that they are leaving the city after the recent death of rapper Lor’ Scoota (Tyriece Travon Watson). “FIGHT” is what brought the two of us together to discuss why we are not running, we will engage in a symbolic FIGHT.


Professor Dr. Natasha C. Pratt-Harris

Although we are in the academy, neither of us (scholar Elijah Miles nor Professor Dr. Natasha C. Pratt-Harris) is far removed from many of the feelings or experiences of those who are impacted by police brutality and urban violence.  Two days after Scoota’s death, Miles shared his feelings about the rapper he adored who was murdered after leaving a charity basketball game – “Mr. Upnext, Mr. Bird Flu, Lor Scoota”. “When I heard the news it broke my heart. It instantly brought tears to my eyes, it hurt.”  Scoota’s death happened days after we discussed the tragic death of one of our own – Christopher Collins. “Chris was destined to do great things as a recent college graduate. His death has broken my heart,” Dr. Pratt-Harris shared.  Both men were killed due to the gun violence that not only pervades the city of Baltimore but also is why #1 Congressman John Lewis encouraged a sit-in in the House of Representatives in June, in response to the Orlando, FL gun massacre, #2 described by President Obama as also impacting cities like Chicago and children at schools like Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, and #3 has also led to the death of many unarmed black men, women, and children by police officers in the U.S.  For us the idea of running from a city, like Baltimore, does not mean we would escape the problem.

Miles referred to a Baltimore Sun article when expressing how he has further been disheartened. Tate Kobang’s comment, ‘Honestly, I done all I can do for and in Baltimore. Word of advice … when the opportunity to leave presents itself take it. Goodbye’, or Gervonta, a star in the boxing ring, ‘Tired of trying to keep it real. I’m gone son!’, and Chino, a dirt bike legend, sharing ‘I definitely got plans on leaving,’ Miles shares, “Our reaction cannot be to hate, give up on, or leave our city.” It’s the very thing that has inspired our FIGHT.  

FIGHT for Scholarship

We are FIGHTING for continuous engaged scholarship regarding the history of the slave trade, Jim Crow and Black Codes, the War on Drugs and street violence.  We are FIGHTING for the acknowledgement that Black males face dual vulnerabilities – simultaneously vulnerable to police violence and street civilian violence.  Miles, mentored by Dr. Pratt-Harris, has spent the summer examining the relationship between violence and the Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome coined by Dr. Joyce DeGruy or explanations for urban violence discussed in Frantz Fanon’s 1961 book “The Wretched of the Earth”.  It makes sense that many have responded to the violence, discussing FLIGHT. Black Baltimore has experienced and is reminded of hopelessness and tragedy on a daily basis locally and nationally.

FIGHT for Fair Media Coverage

We discussed the missed opportunities to highlight the successes of Scoota and Collins. “The local news outlets were not swarming the charity basketball game that Scoota participated, neither the May 2016 commencement where Collins earned his bachelor’s degree,” Dr. Pratt-Harris shared. We are FIGHTING for better representation of Black men and women in the media, possibly curving the image of Black men as criminal.  While news reporters reported on the tremendous losses in the city in June, they also reported on the “plebes” (freshman at the Naval Academy) and their move in day, similar to the Annapolis, MD Naval Academy graduation that’s reported annually.  There has been little to no reporting on the summer programs on campuses like Morgan State University and on move-in day for its students or the joys of graduation.  Our symbolic FIGHT challenges local news outlets to help transform the city’s despair and characterization of Black people by acknowledging the hundreds of Black male and female college graduates that earn degrees in December and May from the city’s two historically Black colleges (HBCU)  – Coppin State University and Morgan State University.  Where:

#1 Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka (1954) U.S. Supreme Court case is less than 65 years old and we live in the state that denied a law school education to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall because he was Black,

#2 HBCUs were established to offer educational opportunities for Blacks who were denied access to higher education, and

#3 the six-year graduation rate has been challenging, a student earning a college degree IS a breaking news story.  

FIGHT for Changes in Law, Policy, and Practice

In addition to the emotions of losing many due to civilian violence, the people of Baltimore may further consider FLIGHT where the Freddie Gray trials appear to be coming to a proverbial end due to the Officer Caesar Goodson (the officer with the most substantial charges in the case) trial ending in an acquittal. This has been followed by threats to Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and an audacious filing of disbarment by a George Washington University law professor, claiming Mosby lacked probable cause to charge the six officers in the Gray case. Many of the powers-that-be have responded publicly with concerns about unrest and less concerns about the treatment of civilians in police custody.  In fact, the one year anniversary of the Freddie Gray uprising was characterized by a police involved shooting of a bb-gun armed 13 year old Black male and the subsequent detainment of his mother and the recent peaceful Lor’ Scoota memorial gathering was characterized by police officer presence in riot gear.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of officer discretion in the Utah vs. Strieff (2016) case. The 4th amendment protections against evidence obtained during illegal searches and seizure are in fact legally admissible in court. The FIGHT in us tells us to use research to examine the law and court decisions that impact our liberties.  We acknowledge that Mosby’s probable cause was rooted in the death of a Black male after he was in police custody and there are countless Black males who are routinely and disproportionately stopped, like Gray and now Sterling. Based on Strieff, if any evidence is obtained illegally, stops like the Gray or Sterling cases, don’t warrant probable cause.  Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, acknowledged this in her dissenting argument in Strieff. “We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are ‘isolated.’ They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere.”

FIGHT for Baltimore, FIGHT for Justice

Albert Einstein  said “the world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”  We ask that those who can make a difference continue to be part of the solution. We can’t in 2016 give up on our city for comfort and convenience. While some may be able to leave, everyone can’t leave! Leaving does not stop the problem. As we conclude Miles asks the questions, imagine if our freedom fighters left us? Where would we be? “In the spirit of Malcolm X, in the spirit of Dr. King, in the spirit of Harriet Tubman and all our ancestors, I challenge us to FIGHT for our communities, FIGHT for our families, FIGHT for our children, FIGHT for a different Baltimore,” he passionately encourages.

Elijah Miles was born and raised in Baltimore and is a Morgan State University Benjamin Quarles Fellow majoring in Political Science.

Dr. Natasha C. Pratt-Harris was raised in Baltimore and is an associate professor and coordinator of the Criminal Justice program in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology with Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD.