Baltimore protester Nathaniel Batty has been in jail every year since he was 11 years old, and he's long felt like a second-class citizen in the city. But he told the New York Times's A.J. Chavar that the protests for Freddie Gray in Baltimore made him feel "almost whole" for once.
"It begins with bridging the gap — bridging the gap from the streets to the regular citizens," he said, acknowledging that he doesn't consider himself a regular citizen. "It's crazy that I don't. I don't know why I don't. Just, it is. But I am a citizen here, though … And I want to be treated like one."
Batty, who identified as a member of the Black Guerilla Family, said local residents have long felt neglected. But the protests over Gray, who received a fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody, gave them an outlet to convey frustrations not just with Baltimore's history of police brutality but with other systemic problems in the city.
"Everybody's been being mistreated for so long that love is just unheard of," Batty said. "Every day, just the thought of, 'Am I going to make it back home tonight? Am I going to make it back home tonight?' That's a crazy thought to deal with."
People can and likely will question Batty's life choices. But his story demonstrates the desperation felt in West Baltimore, a region with neighborhoods in which more than half the residents are unemployed and where average life expectancy can be 20 years lower than a place six miles away.
"We're angry," Batty said. "Not at anyone in particular. Just coming out angry."
These are the complicated, mixed feelings behind the Baltimore protests. Protesters are speaking out not just against the death of Gray — although that's certainly part of it — but on how Gray's death represents a system that they feel has failed them in many ways, leaving them without jobs, living shorter lives, and more susceptible to police harassment and brutality.