Freddie Gray lies on the ground with a few police standing near him. They pull him to his feet. He screams as they drag him into the police car. One of the officers yells “walk!” at him. Sometime in the next half hour, while he is in police custody, 80 percent of his spine is severed at his neck. 

Soon after, the Governor of Maryland declares a state of emergency and activates the National Guard to combat the rioting. 

Last Thursday, The New York Times reported this as “Demonstrators gather in Baltimore over Freddie Gray arrest, death.” On Monday, the New York Post said “Crips and Bloods team up to ‘take out’ Baltimore cops.” On Tuesday, President Obama condemned rioting and called the participants “criminals and thugs.”

These headlines reflect what we feel about the events in Baltimore. There is a quiet battle being waged on the frontier of our opinions, and we need to be critical of the way that language is used to manipulate us. 

Last Wednesday, Baltimore Police Union President Gene Ryan likened the Baltimore protesters to a “lynch mob.” This comparison has been applied to Ferguson protesters by the likes of Fox News, Mike Huckabee and conservative pundit Laura Ingraham. They ironically tried to reappropriate our hatred of racism for the sake of dehumanizing black protesters. These words are bullets fired at the oppressed, and if nobody fights back, they will strike.

DeRay McKesson ’07, the community organizer who recently spoke on campus, was interviewed by CNN on Tuesday. The interview quickly became a fight over linguistic control of the story.

Anchor Wolf Blitzer probed McKesson, telling him, “I just want to hear you say that there should be peaceful protests, not violent protest, in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King.” Blitzer tried to make the narrative of Baltimore into a story of violent protesters who even the reasonable community organizer denounces.

McKesson refused to bite, reframing the issue around the police violence: “Think about the 300 people that have been killed [by police] this year alone…. There’s been property damage here…but remember there have been many days of peaceful protest.” 

McKesson’s narrative was less about the rioters, and more about the conditions of police brutality that instigated the riots. 

Finally, he left us with a simple but powerful image: “Broken windows are not broken spines.” 

I’m inspired to see McKesson actively oppose the efforts of the press to manipulate its audience. I’m inspired to see him use concise, persuasive language, factual examples, and poetic imagery to remake the meaning of a national story. Most of all, I’m inspired to attend the school where I imagine he developed many of these skills. 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that “a riot is the language of the unheard,” that it is the reaction of a people who are “neglected and voiceless.” Uplifting voices, then, is the solution to rioting. 

No longer does a voice necessarily require money—in the age of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Upworthy and Buzzfeed, we just need to be interesting and effective communicators to be heard. We, liberal arts students, are spending four years being trained to do just that.

We take science and reasoning classes to learn to use logic and data. We study history, sociology, anthropology, Africana studies, gender and women’s studies and more to understand the context in which these events occur. We take writing seminars, English classes and art classes to learn to communicate, persuade, and move people. 

It is our responsibility to take what we are learning and apply it, to use our voices to uplift those who have not had the opportunities that we have. 

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the most popular American book of the 19th century on our campus. Nine months after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his legendary “I Have A Dream Speech,” he spoke here at Bowdoin, where students from his alma mater would often spend an exchange semester. Eight years after graduating, DeRay McKesson is using Twitter—and now CNN—to reshape the meaning of the Baltimore riots as you read this.

More than ever, we find ourselves in a media war. If every one of us chose to engage in Bowdoin's history and in the fight to seek justice, we could be an army of change that would reach into every aspect of American society and would recreate the conversations our nation has about race. The lives of men and women like Freddie Gray are on the line.