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Freddie Gray riots in Baltimore spawn rally at Towson University

"This could be you," Korey Johnson screamed at a crowd of several hundred students in Towson University's Freedom Square on Wednesday.

Johnson, a junior double-majoring in political science and communications, helped organize a peaceful but vociferous rally in the square, prompted by the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a spinal cord injury while in police custody April 19. His death has led to protests and riots in Baltimore, making the city and its troubles the lead story on national media outlets.

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On Wednesday, the discontent spilled over into Baltimore County and the university.

"What this protest is all about is Freddie Gray and the Baltimore community and what is going on in your community," co-organizer John Gillespie Jr. shouted through a bullhorn. Gillespie, of Cecil County, a sophomore majoring in English with a minor in sociology, urged his fellow students to march from the square to a nearby bus stop on Cross Campus Drive and board a bus for Penn Station, where organizers planned to meet up with students from other colleges, including Johns Hopkins, Loyola, Coppin State and Morgan State, and at least two area high schools, City College and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.

"Are you guys in?" Gillespie asked.

"Yeah," the crowd said in unison, and chanted, "No justice, no peace. No racist police."

Gray, 25, was buried Monday but by no means forgotten. Many students at the rally decried what they saw as Gray's death at the hands of police officers, and carried signs that said, "Stop Lethal Force" and "We Want Justice."

"It's important for black people across America and black people in Baltimore to know what's happening to people in Baltimore," Gillespie said.

But organizers stressed that they wanted the rally to be peaceful, and some students carried signs that said, "Heal Baltimore" and "# Pray for Baltimore."

A lot of Towson University students at the rally were from out of town, which wasn't lost on Johnson, a Baltimore native and Randallstown resident.

"When you go, I am still here," said Johnson, who wore a camouflage shirt and urged the students to do more than just attend thew rally and take cellphone pictures. "This is not something that you post on Facebook and say, 'I did something good,'" she said.

It wasn't lost on Michael Sullivan, either. The sophomore from Bethesda was on his way to class when he waked into the rally and lingered to watch. His parents had already called him in recent days to find out if he was OK, he said.

Sullivan had mixed feelings about the rally.

"I like that they're definitely attracting a lot of people and getting the word out," he said. But he wasn't sure he liked that they planned to mass for the bigger demonstration at Penn Station.

"I'm just all for peace," he said. "I think violence tears us apart, and I think Freddie Gray's death is tearing us apart."

The rally was an education for Sullivan, who said integration was a major societal issue when his parents were growing up.

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"We've definitely improved since then, but we still have pressing issues," he said.

"I feel like this is something that's been building up for a really long time," said Alex Elia, a junior from Staten Island, N.Y., majoring in mass communications. "I just think it's very important for everyone to come out and for our generation to realize that there are problems in society and we have the power to change them."

She also liked the opportunity for a diversity of opinions.

"Now, with the Internet, its not just your parents and grandparents telling you what to believe," she said.

Friends Alex Kuethe, Alex Burdeshaw and Jonathan Connelly planned to go to Penn Station for the bigger rally, and Kuethe, of Glen Burnie, a sophomore majoring in electronic media in film, held a sign that said, "Black lives matter."

"You can't just sit home and do nothing," he said.

"Put your feet where your words are," said Burdeshaw, of Cockeysville, a senior majoring in exercise science.

"I think there's a sense that young people are apathetic (and) don't care and (are) lethargic," said Connelly, a junior from Frederick majoring in international studies.

Watching from the back of the crowd was Todd Kenreich, a professor of secondary education at Towson University. He said he liked what he saw and that the faculty should use the issue as a teaching tool.

"Part of the responsibility that a university has is to foster civil dialogue," Kenreich said. "In a democracy, schools have a responsibility to find space in the curriculum for these conversations."

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