By Herman Fogus
BALTIMORE—On Thursday, the crowd swelled to its largest number yet as the fourth day of energetic and vocal protests over the death of Freddie Gray spread throughout Downtown and West Baltimore.
A large group of protestors braved cold temperatures and gusty winds to gather in front of City Hall at around 3:30 p.m. Led by Bishop Jamal Bryant and Pastor Wesley West, they rallied and chanted “No Justice, No Peace,” as they continued to express their strong discontent with the police investigation.
As police officers blockaded the streets and the immediate grounds in front of City Hall – in a much larger display of their own numbers than was seen at the Western District Police Station – the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Youth & College National Director Jeff Johnson addressed the 200-plus people in attendance.
“Baltimore City officers think that they are brought into the community to control you,” said Johnson to an energetic crowd. “We don’t work for you. You work for us.”
At around 4:20 p.m., the protestors, led by West, left City Hall and began marching their way through Downtown Baltimore. The protestors swelled to at least 500 people for much of the march, which stopped at the U.S. District Courthouse on Hanover Street and the State’s Attorney’s office in the SunTrust building.
Things remained peaceful, even after the crowd briefly surrounded police cars on two occasions in which they placed a large sign on the roof of one of the cars with images of Gray and at least 25 other people killed in police-involved incidents.
Eventually, the numbers returned to their initial 200 as the main group made its way down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and back towards the Western District Police Station.
A smaller group of 40-60 people, once again piloted by West, returned to City Hall, where West addressed both citizens and the media.
“A lot of people are hurt and upset,” said West. “All we want is justice and peace here in Baltimore.”
Later that evening, a prayer vigil, led by Rev. Alfred C.D. Vaughn, in support of Freddie Gray’s family was held at the Sharon Baptist Church, located at the corner of Presstman and North Stricker Street. The church was filled with both local media and residents, including several Morgan State University alumni whom harbored their own strong feelings about the Freddie Gray case.
“It’s just a shame that such a thing is going on like this,” said Martin Cruise, a Baltimore resident and 1960 Morgan graduate. “The police don’t seem to be getting the message that the world is watching them, and they are not cutting down on their behaviors.”
Joan Scott-Cruise, a 1967 graduate who had served in her own protests, had some strong feelings about police and their intentions regarding African American men.
“I am particularly concerned about the young men and even the older men, because the police have no regard to what age you are, whether you have your hands in the air or not, whether you lie down on the ground or not, whether you put your hands behind your back,” said Scott-Cruise. “They mean to wipe us out, and we’ve got to change the laws. We’ve got to change the police system.”
And at least one person believes part of that change involves hiring officers who are native to Baltimore.
“Most of the police officers don’t know the community, because they don’t come from Baltimore City,” said Samuel T. Redd, director of C.U.R.E. Operation P.U.L.S.E. “There should be efforts going forward to bring people in the police department who have a vested interest in Baltimore City.”
More protests are expected on Friday and organizers are hoping for a massive crowd on Saturday to protest in front of City Hall.
Meanwhile, it was announced at both locations that the funeral for Freddie Gray would be held at the New Shiloh Baptist Church on North Monroe Street at 10 a.m., Monday, April 27.
Photo Credit: Herman Fogus