Why “Baltimore Rising” Is The Gift That Will Keep Giving
Anyone who was a big fan of HBO’s enduring hit The Wire, which was produced and set in Baltimore, MD — already has a pretty good idea about how the gorgeousness of the city is crippled by the high crime rates that stem from a brutalized community — riddled with the bullets of a society that is hell bent on keeping it that way.
Creator and former police reporter David Simon never accepted his offering’s label as a “crime drama” but rather a show “about the American City, and how we live together.”
That’s probably why it’s particularly poignant that Sonja Sohn best known for her role as Detective Kima Greggs on The Wire — happens to be the brains behind the affectingly engrossing new HBO documentary Baltimore Rising.
Sohn directed the rapturous love letter to a city that desperately needs a never-ending embrace when you consider the hovering sheet of pain and anguish that consistently envelopes the bleakly exposed burrows — that are historically and tragically “underserved” and “over-policed.”
The film opens with a one-two punch as we’re greeted with a scene that captures the famously boarded up homes — echoing the sentiment of shackled poverty that has ravaged the signature embodiment of Baltimore — ever since the raging war between the police and the residents that walk around with markers on their backs.
Sohn then goes on to enlist the assistance of Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes who eloquently presents an arresting summary for those on the outside looking in — who casually blame the residue of the riots for the current state of affairs.
“Look at the boards on those homes. Do they look like they were tacked up there yesterday? No, they’ve been there 20 years, maybe longer. … The riot didn’t tear up the community. The condition of the community caused the uprising that we had.”
The message is jarringly delivered as the viewer is suddenly transported to footage of the chaos that commenced on April 27, 2015 — in response to the tragic death of a young Black man — Freddie Gray — who was seriously injured while in police custody — after he was violently captured for allegedly “possessing a switchblade.”
The perfectly fit Gray — was thrown into the police van and while being transported — it is determined that he became comatose, which forced the six officers to head straight to the hospital. On arrival it was clear that Gray’s injuries were severe and included damage to his spinal cord. The Baltimore police officers were placed on suspension without pay while the investigation was initiated and a couple of weeks later the medical examiner concluded that Gray had been murdered.
Days later — Downtown Baltimore swelled with angry bodies demanding justice for Gray and all the others— who have either perished or are languishing in environments that were constructed for their physical and mental demise. There was also the task of convincing the police force why Black Lives Matter — since that simple fact never seems to fully register.
The violence during the protests was astounding and recalls the devastation of the Los Angeles riots back in 1992. But, what Sohn manages to convey with astute authority and instinctual brilliance is the immense hope amid all the rubble.
There’s nothing more validating than witnessing the surge of independence and formidability of the younger generation — and this is generously demonstrated through the lenses of a filmmaker who chose the right group of burgeoning leaders to shadow.
Makayla Gilliam-Price is a baby-faced high schooler with a roaring spirit that was borne from familial ties and she takes her position as founder of City Bloc (an organization that caters to socially-conscious youths) very seriously. Her unrelenting service and dedication is admirable, but it’s a bone of contention for her mother who is worried that her young daughter may end up sacrificing her education for activism.
Kwame Rose — received national attention when he gave veteran reporter Geraldo Rivera and Fox News all the reasons why they weren’t welcome in his city. His parents are also concerned about his entanglements with the law and the long-term effects of his controversial activities.
Dayvon Love and Adam Jackson are both committed to ensuring that new policies are in place to give those under siege the break they need to come up for air — and that’s achieved through the organization — Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle where Love serves as director of public policy and Jackson is CEO.
Sohn is driven by the narrative of rawness and intimacy as we are invited to sit in on meetings and brainstorming sessions as the youth divulge the language of their truth for those in command to tolerate and assess with cautious acceptance. Both Gilliam-Price and Rose are the two young soldiers that Sohn latches on to as we get to discover what motivates their hunger for challenging the powers-that-be with no consideration for the high price they could end up paying.
Everything about Sohn’s delivery is capsuled in the glaring manifestation of of why Baltimore Rising is the gift that will keep giving.
There is no doubt that Sohn set out to present the climate of a city that she’s closely related to through personal investment and the heartache of a community that she harvested with love and duty.
The most inspiring and memorable scene involves Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and Genard “Shadow” Barr — a former gang member who also works as a support specialist for recovering addicts. Barr has the eyes of a man who has endured more than his fair share of grief — and the tears that stream as he gives Davis his solemn vow to spare his kids a similar fate — as they both entertain options for a mutual resolution is absolutely gut-wrenching.
Baltimore Rising isn’t without flaws, but Sohn certainly deserves to be applauded for her ability to engage those who have survived what many still can’t fathom — and yet there’s still a sense of the future and how promising it will be on the wings of the young natives who aren’t willing to back down — regardless of the consequences.
And that’s the main element of Sohn’s feisty entry — the search for tomorrow — through the battles of leaders-in-waiting like Gilliam-Price and Kwame — who will surely not fade into the background after the director yells cut.
Rising isn’t embedded in stereotypical fodder that suits outlets that are only interested in the littered corners and all the other jargon that gives Baltimore the sticky reputation it can’t scrub off with ease. It’s a tale of a city that is filled with pride and the temperament of a legacy that it’s striving to renew with the dignity of those that are ready to propel it.
A change is gonna come and when it does — we will be ready.