Teens can be crude, mean, prickly, and obnoxious, but they are not dumb. And often, their disinterest in being polite, and even their lack of awareness about the verisimilitude of what we adults think of as the complexity or subtlety of an event, affords them a special kind of insight. "The 2015 Baltimore Uprising: A Teen Epistolary," a zine that gathers tweets from Baltimore teens starting on the day of Freddie Gray's death and ending in the days following the curfew (the final tweet in the book rather ominously says, "The riots ain't over") is evidence of this.
The chunky, semi-glossy self-published work provides a singular view of the uprising quite separate from the breaking news of the national media or the think pieces churned out after the unrest. A few examples: "now Freddie broke his own neck...so why it take yall so long to tell the public @BaltimorePolice"; "they keep hollerin bout gangs, WE DON'T EVEN HAVE GANGS LIKE THAT NOMORE."; "yall need to purge a fucking book w/ yall low ass gpa's."
Collectively, these tweets can teach us things. They send us back to those days when we didn't know what was happening or what was going to happen next during the violence on Saturday, April 25 downtown, and the rioting on Monday, April 27, and amid the making-it-up-as-they-go-along week of protests prior to that. The tweets capture the larger thing that we keep calling "the uprising" and the "is a revolution happening before our very eyes" excitement and worry. One tweet just declares, "Looking at a lot of shit different now."
These tweets counter "proper" media that for the most part totally screwed up its coverage and the kids' candor is refreshing in the face of so much useless journalistic "objectivity." It makes a case for teens—you know, kids not all that different from the ones who were stuck at Mondawmin because the buses all got shut down and then were confronted with police in riot gear—as a significant political voice during the uprising.
The ways in which teens tweak and manipulate Twitter's limitations is inspiring and arguably revolutionary. With 140 characters and an image cribbed from some corner of the internet or a well-chosen iPhone emoji (itself a political act, given that until recently there were only white emoji), they challenge the prevailing narrative of the uprising, while allowing for a multitude of thoughts and feelings on the topic: the flushed-face emoji along with "Police quick to shutdown a party or any event in Baltimore but late to shut down a planned riot they knew about"; a woman holding stolen boxes of cereal accompanied by a tweet that asks, "Why would you take cereal" and a lineup of sobbing emoji; a screen shot of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on television, her "space to destroy" quote about rioters at the bottom of the screen and a tweet that reads "Dis dummy."
Privileged tech utopians speak of the importance of Twitter and technology without fully realizing that what's important about these programs—which are, when you get down to it, corporate-controlled data-mining services foisted upon us under the guise of entertainment—or really, the only thing that's important about them, is the people who use them. And so, "The 2015 Baltimore Uprising: A Teen Epistolary" validates the way teens communicate, which is often through memes and internet abbreviations and other hyper-casual shorthand. "Literally just watched the police steal a nigga" one tweet says, referencing the shocking arrest of Joseph Kent on live television on Tuesday, April 28.
It isn't that these teens don't take the events seriously, it's just that they have a different attitude about it than we're used to and we should take that seriously. If we've learned anything since the uprising, it's that business cannot go on as usual—that means escaping comfort zones and listening to and considering more voices. What is being said matters more here than how it is said.
Research and Destroy New York City, the collective that put the zine together, prefers to remain anonymous about the project, in order to shift attention away from the curators here and onto the kids who are saying what needs to be said. And the members want to avoid profiting off the uprising, so profits from copies of the zine sold at Red Emma's go to the Baltimore Algebra Project. "Who cares about us, listen to the kids," Research and Destroy New York City wrote to us via email. "We're obviously outsiders, but one of the points the zine makes is that so are all the professional activists, councilmembers, and 'community leaders' who claim to speak for the kids, so it'd just be kind of shitty to have a piece about the zine that centers our voices instead of those of the youth in your own city."