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Black Lives Matter protests continue with youth-led rally in Towson

More than 150 people gathered in Towson’s Patriot Plaza on Tuesday as the Baltimore region continues its second week of protests calling for police reform and policy change after the death of a black Minneapolis man in police custody last month.

“Today’s protesters will become tomorrow’s leaders,” Pikesville High School student Omer Reshid told the crowd. “This fight for change did not start with us, but it sure as hell will end with us.”

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Stevenson University student Ruben Amaya and Reshid organized the event which drew a crowd largely composed of young people.

Speakers like Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr., Board of Education member Cheryl Pasteur, County Councilman Izzy Patoka and other Baltimore County Public School teachers continued to draw attention to inequities faced by black men and women in not only the criminal justice system, but in education and lawmaking bodies.

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Emotionally charged but peaceful protests in the Baltimore region have largely been led and organized by young activists galvanized and outraged after a witnessing a video capturing the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe.

Floyd’s death followed the recent killing of Ahmaud Arbery by two civilians in south Georgia and Louisville woman Breonna Taylor, who would have turned 27 this month.

“There is that part of me that stands here today who is saddened,” Pasteur said. The school board member recalled growing up before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case that ruled school segregation to be unconstitutional.

“I didn’t just grow up during the Civil Rights movement. I’m proud to say I was a part of that movement," Pasteur said. “After all of those years, we’re still having the same conversation. The only difference now is that resounding cry that black lives matter.”

Kenya Branche, 17, said she had been to several protests with her Towson High School friends in Baltimore City and the county. She remembers the unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray in 2015, but at the time, she “didn’t understand the severity” of it.

Now, she said, “I want to fight. ... And I’m here to show my voice.”

In the crowd, protesters held handmade signs declaring “Be the change” and “You messed with the wrong generation.” Marie Finger-Elam, a Baltimore County teacher, brought her nine-year-old daughter to the rally to show her “what older kids can do” to address social issues, she said.

Madison Troutman, 17, said she’s noticed her peers have taken a more active civic role by protesting.

“I feel like our generation can make more of a difference," she said.

Representing a group of curriculum writers and developers at Baltimore County Public Schools, Doug Handy stressed the importance of working “across generational lines" to address social inequities, and said part of that effort must be within the school system to promote the “education freedom” of students, particularly for black students, who make up the majority of the county’s student population.

Emphasizing his commitment “to make the changes that we know are needed,” Olszewski told the crowd that “listening is just the first step. The next step is to have a fierce sense of urgency ... To reform our police departments, to invest in communities that have been ignored for far too long."

In Baltimore County, “we have much, much more work to do,” Olszewski said.

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