Thousands of concerned and angry Baltimore citizens turned out yesterday to join in a protest march against police brutality, and to demand justice in the death of Freddie Gray. The march began at the two points in west Baltimore connected with Gray’s shocking demise – the Gilmor Homes and at the Western District Police Station – then slowly moved through town for a gathering at the War Memorial Plaza.
Gray, 25, died on April 19 – one week after sustaining a severe spinal injury, after police took him into custody in a neighborhood known for drug dealing and violent crimes. The six arresting officers are all currently under investigation and have been suspended with pay.
The protest was mostly peaceful, though at one point a battle of megaphones took place between the activists on the stage and a handful of rabble-rousers in the crowd.
Tre Murphy of the Baltimore Algebra Project was one of the event organizers. Murphy told the Baltimore Post-Examiner the diverse coalition for Saturday’s protest came together to address several longstanding issues.
“These groups here today have been on the ground and doing this work. And there are a few other groups who are new to this coalition; some of them are from out of town and others are here in Baltimore. They felt it necessary to be a part of this movement of thousands of people who have converged here in Baltimore to talk about the death of Freddie Gray.”
When asked what he hopes to see come of the protest, Murphy said:
“We have three demands that we’re putting out that we feel are not outside the reach of elected officials to uphold. One is that we want a full and fair investigation by the state’s attorney for Baltimore city, Marilyn Mosby. We want an investigation and an indictment of the three police officers.
“The second thing, we want local, state, and even federal officials to come out and give a public commitment that they are going to work towards the reforms that community-based organizations have suggested be put in place. Just to give you an example, one of the bills that we introduced was to have a civilian-based review board, so that they can have an investigation and prosecution powers. We feel like the police department’s internal affairs division is biased. Most of them work with those police officers every day, so they’re not going to investigate to the fullest extent, like they would if it was an ordinary civilian. We’re saying that police officers are not above the law; they need to be held to the same standards that ordinary citizens are held to.
“The third thing is that, in addition to supporting those reforms, we want the General Assembly to pass the bills that have been introduced. We want Governor Hogan to put pressure on the General Assembly and City Council to give ordinary citizens protection. Right now, there’s no accountability; no structure. They need to call a special session to address this issue.
“Two years ago, Governor O’Malley called for a special session, during the summer time, to get the casino built here inside of Baltimore City. So if you can call for millions of dollars to get a casino built, then you can call for a special session to talk about how to adequately build a system of accountability, that would be in the best interest of the community – the taxpayers who pay for the police and politicians.”
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Counted among the protesters at the City Hall rally was the father of a college student; a woman who has lost two sons to violent crime; a diabetic man in a wheelchair; a retired correctional officer and an attorney who had never participated in a protest march.
Leonard Patterson, 56 – Manasses, Virginia
“I was born and raised in Baltimore, MD; I still have family here. I have a daughter who goes to North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, a sophomore, and she drives down there. Since I live in VA and she lives in Greensboro, my concern is that I go out there and try to make a difference in the world for future generations, like hers, so that they’re safe when they are in confrontations — or just communications — with police or law enforcement. So, I just feel it’s important for me to watch over my family here in Baltimore and to try to make it a better world for my daughter to establish herself in the world.”
Burnett McFadden – Baltimore
“I came down, because I’ve lost two sons to murder; I have three sons that I lost six weeks apart. I’m here to support the mothers who have lost kids to violence, and that’s the name of our organization, A Mother’s Cry. We’re marching because we don’t want no violence, to let mothers know it’s okay, it’s gonna be alright. I do a lot of interviews. How did I get this far? I got here by walking Living Legacy, Families of Homocide, MADD. I donated my sons’ organs. I’m here to hold my sign up, to let her know that someone is here for her — family — and let her know that we are here for her. To reach out to us, to call us, we’re here for you.”
John K. Goyns, 58 – “I don’t think there is one black guy in this city who hasn’t had an encounter with the police. I used to do my field work for Morgan State at the courthouse, and when I wore my suit and tie it was always cool, but when I did plumbing work and wore my dirty clothes, I was always being pulled over. Now they’re finally, finally, finally taking notice of this shit.”
Demaris Dent, 54 – Baltimore
“What brings me down here is to see justice get served. The police do their job, this mayor, the commissioner, everything gets solved. I hope nothing goes crazy out here today; just get it over, get it done.”
David Fegan, 70 – Fairfax, Virginia
“I’m an attorney; went to Maryland law school. I’m 70 years old, and I’ve never been to a protest. I’m in the middle of the road, politically, and there are a lot of things black people want that I don’t agree with, but damn it, I agree with them on this issue. Am I just going to say I oppose police brutality, or am I going to come out against police brutality. And so I figure, I better do something sometime in my life, and this was a good day to speak up and do it.”
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James Quattlebaum, a 50 year old tee-shirt vendor from Columbia, South Carolina, set up shop on the outer edge of the plaza.
“I sell the tee-shirts for the money – but more – I sell them to get the message out. This protest is way overdue. I’ve been to Ferguson, Charleston, New York City; every month, I’m going somewhere new, selling shirts for some black kid who got killed.
“I was in Ferguson when things started to get kinda crazy with the protests. I got video of it. I tell you what, when the protest goes bad, it can be an ugly scene, a scary scene, as I experienced in Ferguson for the first time. I shut down my business when it got really bad out there, because it wasn’t safe. There were people out there with children, but neither side seemed to care at that time. I was telling mothers that they need to take their kids away from there, because it was really dangerous.”
Quattlbaum told the Baltimore Post-Examiner he actually began selling t-shirts shortly after the Los Angeles riots in 1992.
“After the riots, my friend printed up some t-shirts, and we started selling them. We started doing well, and I’ve been selling them ever since. That was 27 years ago. That’s what put me in the tee-shirt business.
“I was on skid row in Los Angeles. I didn’t know anybody when I went out there, but I met a few people. They had a manual silk screen machine, and we printed the shirts up after the riots. I stood on steps selling shirts and made more money doing that than I had in my life, so I kept on doing it.”
Quattlebaum said his solution for the ongoing problem with police brutality is a zero tolerance law for racial profiling.
“I think it would change the situation considerably. As a black man, I’ve been racially profiled several times, and that can be scary also. I think that we should pass zero tolerance on racial profiling.
“I think all police officers should wear body cameras, and I also think the public should have cameras in their cars. When you’re driving down the freeway and you get stopped, and you go to court, and the judge takes the police side; you know he’s lying, and she knows he’s lying, it’s a real hurtful feeling.
“I’ve traveled all over the U.S. with my business and been stopped over a hundred times because of racial profiling; my stuff’s been put on the side of the road. I started recording the police a few years ago. Every time I drive down the road now, I see them sitting by the side of the road, I pull my phone out and start recording because I’m afraid I’m gonna get stopped. Couple occasions I did get stopped. I got the recordings in my phone right now.”
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Just before taking the stage to join other activists and clerics who addressed the burgeoning crowd, Minster Terry Williams of Warriors Come Forth, shared his thoughts with the Baltimore/Los Angeles Post-Examiner.
“My hope is that somehow a bridge will be developed, because oftentimes, out of devastation such as this comes the greatest understanding; the greatest relationships can develop as well.
“My hope is also that somehow the police officers of Baltimore city, along with the inner city residents that live here, somehow that our relationship will grow out of this. You know, it’s sad that it had to take a death to bring light — or should I say this national attention — to such a situation. I am optimistic, and I truly believe that some good is going to come out of this. No matter how bad it seems to appear, the underlying thread to this is that good is going to come out of it.”
When asked if Minister Williams was encouraged by the fact that the protests (to that point) had all been peaceful, he replied:
“Considering a lot of young brothers are involved, for them to hold their peace and not respond violently, that is a monumental milestone in and of itself. You are talking about a bunch of angry black African Americans who are holding their ground and not getting angry. But they are worn out on the inside, from the very core of who they are. This is what it means to be a black man in America. Dealing with individuals whose fathers have left them or been abandoned by their mothers who are on crack or cocaine. And these kids are left to fend for themselves.
“I spent 23 years of my life in prison, and left my son out here, and he became vulnerable. He fell among the gang activities; and the very ones he fell among are the ones that killed him. Through my absence, anger was created in that. And I believe that the absence of a lot of mothers and fathers today in these young people’s lives, we are developing young monsters. And these young monsters are so angry that, when you see the black on black crime, it’s the result of their pain and their hurt. A great man of God once told me that hurting people hurt people. So you gotta bunch of hurting people hurting people. It goes to the police department as well as the young men in the street with their pants hanging off their tails.
“But I believe some good is going to come out of this. People are forcing their opinions on everything that they’re going through. Look at the anger. People are angry. Black people in America somewhat have the right to be angry. It doesn’t give them the right to go out and do wrong. But they have the right to be angry.”
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Editors note: Shortly after this report was filed, isolated incidents of mayhem and violence broke out at several locations in downtown Baltimore including Camden Yards and at Lexington Market. WBAL radio reports that 34 people were arrested.
Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A former reporter at The Washington Herald and an occasional contributor to the Voice of Baltimore, Tony’s poetry, humor and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore; Magic Octopus Magazine; Destination Maryland, and Tales of Blood and Roses.