Larry Jackson, son of Baltimore and JHU Center for Africana Studies faculty, on Freddie Gray and growing up Baltimore:
“Is it about the money?” he cried to his family, who had recently received a multimillion-dollar settlement from the city. He had seized a white-noise moment — Judge Barry Williams, who dominated the courtroom like a witty powerlifter, had the attorneys at his bench for a discussion, and the clerks had filled the courtroom with the sound of television snow. No matter. The sheriff’s deputies swiftly arrived at the pew. “No noise allowed, sir,” commanded the same officer who had earlier reprimanded me when I asked for directions to the courtroom for the “Freddie Gray trial,” the inaccurate handle that the television networks were using. The officer beckoned for Odabe, who refused to leave and asserted his right to be in the courtroom. The tension was eased by another deputy, bald-headed and bearded like most of the African-American men over thirty who were in the courtroom. He knew Odabe, and he touched his hand soothingly, assuring him that he would be all right. But a third officer, tall and powerfully built, reversed the redemptive gesture and commanded Odabe out. The deputy entered the pew and reached for his slumped prey. They were joined by the shift supervisor, a jacketed female sheriff; and the four officers yoked Odabe by the shoulders and feet as he argued his citizenship rights, folding his arms like a mummy, and cast him out.
“The family seemed to respond to Odabe’s outburst with chagrin, but I was moved by his words and wondered whether he had not sacrificed himself to reveal a greater truth. Because it turned out that the powerful officer was Warren Smith, who had been my section leader in band during middle school. Another of the deputies, all of whom were African-American, had saved me from being beaten by a gang of older boys when we were in high school. His name was Troy Jackson. Both of the men had served part of their careers as uniformed patrol officers in the Western District, where Freddie Gray lived and died. In the back of the courtroom the next afternoon, I reunited with the men, who were togged out in brown shirts and ties and Glocks. We laughed at the chance meeting, the old times, and called our town Smalltimore. What united us was the same thing that tied us to Freddie, whom other friends of mine had coached in football, to Porter, who grew up in West Baltimore, down the street from my closest friend. Odabe’s symbolic theater embodied the point: a living tissue connecting the litter, the litterers, and the cleaners.”
Photo capture by Devin Allen (of West Baltimore), from his IG, and was on the cover of Time Magazine. Explore his work here.