by Evan Serpick
April, 2020 is considered the fifth anniversary of the Baltimore Uprising, but in the minds of many staff members of Baltimore City Paper, where I was editor from 2012 to 2015, the Uprising dates back to at least November, 2014. That’s when Baltimore activists mobilized in solidarity with counterparts in Ferguson, Missouri protesting a grand jury's failure to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.
As City Paper staffer (and later editor) Brandon Soderberg wrote in his November, 2015 City Paper story titled, “The Baltimore Uprising began a year ago today and it continues on,” “Baltimore erupted in protests—along with cities around the nation—decrying the lack of police accountability. On Nov. 25, 2014, here in Baltimore, hundreds took to the streets at various demonstrations around the city—a turnout that was surprising and sudden.” Describing City Paper coverage of those early protests, he wrote, “It was a snapshot of the movement as it was figuring itself out, when many weren't sure if it was even a movement yet.”
Soderberg, managing editor Baynard Woods, photo editor J.M. Giordano, and other staffers covered those protests and the ones in April, 2015 relentlessly, documenting the emerging movement in a much more grounded, nuanced way that any other local journalists, to say nothing of the cable-network buzzards literally circling above. In particular, Giordano’s powerful portraits of protest leaders gave faces and names to people who had been largely characterized by other media as “a mob.”
Giordano paid a price—albeit a relatively small one—for his determination to document the Uprising from within. In the early morning hours of Sunday, April 26, Giordano and Woods were covering protests outside the Western District police headquarters when Giordano, embedded among the protestors, was knocked down and beaten by Baltimore Police Department officer.
When I look back at that coverage now, nothing evokes the memory of the events more than Giordano’s photos. In all of the master photographer’s work, there is a depth, an urgency, and an advocacy on behalf of his subjects. Like the best journalists, Giordano demands that people actually consider and understand his subjects, not dismiss or stereotype them. As we reflect back on the Baltimore Uprising and consider what has taken place since—and what hasn’t—that kind of consideration is as crucial as ever.