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Students weigh in on Baltimore protests

When Natalie Singer, 18, returned to Manchester Valley High School on Monday after watching on TV as peaceful protests turned violent last weekend, there were a lot of students talking about the civil unrest that happened so close to home.

"It was definitely a hot topic — we spent the majority of my world history class talking about it," Singer said.

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This past week sparked discussion among students about the unrest in Baltimore after Freddie Gray, 25, died April 19 from a spinal injury he suffered while in police custody. Six officers were charged in connection with his death Friday.

"There are certainly people in our county who are extremely conservative," Singer said. "Hearing both perspectives is good."

While discussion about the issue was expected to occur among students, school officials asked teachers not to voice their personal opinions during instructional time, said Jonathan O'Neal, assistant superintendent of administration for Carroll County Public Schools.

"We also ask them to take a nonpartisan approach during election time," O'Neal said. "While we expected students to talk about it in class, we wanted to make sure we used appropriate discussion and the appropriate amount of class time."

CCPS Superintendent Stephen Guthrie emphasized in the email sent to parents Tuesday that "racially insensitive statements would not be tolerated."

Students said that although they don't live in Baltimore, they often travel to the nearby city for sporting events and to go to restaurants.

"It was upsetting to me to turn on the TV last Sunday and see buildings on fire," said Belle Nelson, 16, a junior at Century High School. "What really bothers me is that people are using this to wreak havoc."

Nelson said it was disheartening to see protestors looting and setting fire to buildings when Gray's family asked protestors not to use violence.

Caitlin Sien, 16, another junior at Century High School, also felt it was unsettling to see the closest city to her home under duress.

"This affects people in Carroll County because it is our closest city. … It makes our state look bad as a whole," Sien said.

Marilyn J. Mosby, Baltimore's state's attorney, announced Friday that the six police officers involved in the arrest and injury of Gray face criminal charges including second-degree murder, manslaughter and second-degree assault, prompting celebration among those in the community who want to see police held accountable.

Sien said she wasn't expecting that decision to be made.

"Things will go over better now that there is a result," she said.

Discussion among students touched on racial tensions between police officers and residents in Baltimore and across the country.

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Nelson, whose step-brother works as a police officer in Montgomery County, said that while she understands why protestors might be angry, she doesn't believe the majority of Baltimore police are racist.

"I hope that they will learn that destroying things and rioting won't help alleviate the frustration they are feeling," Nelson said.

Nelson was shocked to see teenagers taking part in the uprising against police.

"I feel like teenagers have no place doing that," she said.

Singer said that while she doesn't think violence was the answer, she understands where the rioters were coming from. Freddie Gray's death is the latest in a string of events across the nation involving policing and racial issues.

"I do think mistakes have been made as far as the police department goes," Singer said. "There is a flaw in the system as far as the treatment of African-Americans goes."

Singer doesn't attribute that mistreatment to racist police officers, but to a system that is inherently flawed.

"It's the system — it's the uniform they are wearing," Singer said.

lauren.loricchio@carrollcountytimes.com

410-857-7862

twitter.com/LaurenLoricchio

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