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Rapper Wale Holds Town Hall With Baltimore High School Students


In Baltimore today, there've been scattered protests, but so far the streets are calm after the first night of a curfew in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. And as the city waits for more information about what lead to the death of Freddie Gray a week after his arrest, students returned to school. NPR's Jeff Brady begins our coverage from West Baltimore.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: We're at the Mondawmin Mall where there is a helicopter still flying overhead patrolling the area. There are National Guard Troops heavily armed, and across the street is Frederick Douglass High School. That is the school where some of those rioters and looters came from on Monday. And today, administrators were trying to create a teachable moment.

WALE: I'm coming to chill.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Ya'll know who that is?

WALE: 'Sup with y'all?

BRADY: In the school library, a surprise visitor, Wale, the rapper who's from D.C., dropped in for a small assembly where students were encouraged to air their feelings about what's going on in their city. Wale at first lightened the mood, joking about his dry skin.

WALE: What's up? Somebody got some lotion? This some dollar store junk?



BRADY: It's from CVS, someone in the crowd joked, referring to the drugstore that was looted and set on fire on Monday. After the laughter, the serious conversation began.

WALE: I've been harassed by police. And even in my state now, I'm a millionaire, they harass me regardless.

BRADY: Wale challenged the students to become part of history and turn this moment into something positive. One student, Matrez Watt, standing in the middle of the crowded library, challenged the famous rapper. He wondered why all the reporters and television cameras for what is a life and death problem here?

MATREZ WATT: We throwing rocks because we tired, yo. I was 11 and some night I seen n****** choked by Narcos, the Narcotics Police Department, choked m************ trying to get pills and s***.

BRADY: An adult standing nearby warned the student to use your words. Then, WALE answered the criticism.

WALE: I don't care about them. I mean, I'm closer to ya'll age than most of them, I would assume. So we trying to find a resolve right now, so don't nobody got to get put in no pound box.

BRADY: A sore point for many in this library was Baltimore's mayor, who used the word thugs to describe those on the street Monday. Deputy Mayor Dawn Kirstaetter was at the back of the library.

DEPUTY MAYOR DAWN KIRSTAETTER: She has pulled back from that word. And I want you to know she knows that you all are kings and queens in our future.

BRADY: Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake tweeted a clarification today, saying she was speaking out of frustration and anger and didn't mean to call students thugs. Back outside, one student, Dominic Carter, says he's frustrated with media coverage.

DOMINIC CARTER: All the time they mention Douglass High School this, Douglass High School that - it wasn't all Douglass High School. So you got to place that blame evenly on Coppin Academy, which is right behind us, Carvin - all the other schools around here.

BRADY: Still, at Frederick Douglass High School, administrators want to identify students involved in the riot and looting.

IONA SPIKES: So I can tell you that without a doubt, no tolerance for nonsense.

BRADY: Principal Iona Spikes says students who violated the school's code of conduct will be punished. She says they received fair warning because students got a clear message as they left on Monday.

SPIKES: Make good choices. Be responsible. Be safe. Understand what the process is. Understand what you're doing and what you're getting involved in. Don't make poor decisions.

BRADY: Back across the street, National Guard Sergeant Brandon Sadler grew up outside the city and says this is a strange deployment.

BRANDON SADLER: I never thought I'd be in here with weapons or anything, you know? Never in my life did I think it was going to happen.

BRADY: But the looting and the rioting did happen. Now the city is figuring out what comes next. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Baltimore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.