By Ashley Childs and Amira Hairston
The arrest 13 days ago that led to the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray incited nearly 2,000 demonstrators to come to Baltimore to participate Saturday in a march and rally for justice at City Hall.
There have been daily protests at the Western District Police Station since Gray’s death. The station is the base of the six officers who were involved in Gray’s arrest. Saturday’s demonstration, the largest to date, was expanded beyond the Sandtown-Winchester community where events surrounding Gray’s arrest and death took place.
Although this was a rally for justice for a Baltimorean, those who have seen similar circumstances and events elsewhere traveled to Baltimore from across the U.S., they said, to send a message. Protesters came from nearby places like Washington, New Jersey and New York, but also from as far away as Cleveland, Ohio and Ferguson, Mo., where a police officer killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown in August.
Malik Shabazz, a founder of the group Black Lawyers for Justice, was one of the main organizers of this rally. Shabazz and other community organizers led the crowd from the Gilmor Homes community, where Gray lived, to the front of the City Hall.
“Not only are the police killing us every day, but we killing each other every day,” said Carlos Patterson, a black man from Brooklyn, N.Y. who brought his family here to march. He said violence in black communities has gotten out of control. “I’m here so my son can see that there is a better way of living for black men,” he added.
The nearly two-hour walk was made by people from all ethnicities and ages carrying signs and yelling chants like, “Two, four, six, eight, we want justice we won’t wait” and “All night, all day we are going to fight for Freddie Gray.”
The protest remained peaceful throughout the daylight hours, even when organizers called on the crowd to “shut down” traffic at major downtown intersections, including at Pratt and Calvert streets near the baseball stadium, where the Orioles faced the Red Sox.
There had been little interaction between police and protesters until about 6 p.m. when some made their way back to Camden Yards and small spouts of violence began to erupt. There, some people threw bottles, rocks and other objects at officers. One young man jumped on top of a police cruiser and the windows of five cruisers were damaged.
Meanwhile, back at City Hall, another group of protesters decided to make their own statement, by pulling down the American Flag and trying to replace it with an all black flag. Before they were able to complete this task, they were interrupted by a group of older gentlemen, who were all very upset about their treatment of the flag.
“I don’t appreciate that at all,” said Minister Larry Williams. “It’s very disrespectful to the veterans of the United States.”
Williams said that he was a veteran of the United States and that he would not stand by while the flag was being treated with such disregard. Before the flag could get damaged, a policeman confiscated it and took it away.
In the face of the destruction and some taunting by protesters, police were unusually restrained and took little or no action against them.
Police Commissioner, Anthony Batts, said that there were about 1200 law enforcement officers from the city, state troopers and other Maryland counties who helped keep the rally peaceful.
“Our desire is to break up the culture of the police department, our desire is to break up the racism and the brutality tactics,” said one Northeast Baltimore resident. The member of the non-profit organization, Out for Justice said it is time for reform in the Baltimore City Police Department.
Speeches at the rally seemed directed at politicians and policymakers as much as at the crowd gathered at City Hall.
“Mr. Obama many of these brothers and sisters and these people who are here they are from Baltimore but they are from all over the country. We see black men dropping like flies, we see black men being shot down and killed in New York, in Ferguson, in Ohio, in South Carolina. We see them all across the United States,” Shabazz said.
“Ms. Loretta Lynch black men are being lynched across the country, what are you going to do about it?” Shabazz asked. Lynch was confirmed Thursday as the first black female U.S. attorney general. The Justice Department, which she will lead, has launched an investigation into whether Gray’s civil rights were violated.
At around 10 p.m., Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and a few others decided to have a press conference so that she could address the violence that happened during the rally.
“This is something that is unacceptable to me and everyone who lives in Baltimore,” said Rawlings-Blake.
According to her, 95 percent or more of the protesters protested peacefully, so it was only a small group of people who got violent. She thanked the police department and the many other organizations, like the Nation of Islam, for doing their best to keep the peace.
Being the voice for the Gray family, Freddie Gray’s twin sister also spoke at the press conference.
“Can ya’ll please, please stop the violence. Freddie Gray would not want this,” Gray said in a hurried pace. “Freddie father and mother does not want this. Violence does not get justice. Thank you.”
After Pastor Jamal H. Bryant, the pastor at the Empowerment Temple AME Church, tried his best to encourage peace, Rawlings-Blake ended the press conference with some questions.
According to councilman Brandon M. Scott, Baltimoreans were not responsible for the violence that occurred at the rally.
“Yes, these folks that were inciting this –may have been the Baltimore people participating,” said Scott. “But the folks inciting this response and the incorrect response were defiantly from the outside.”
Photo Credit: Desire Peace
To see the full photo gallery for this event, click here.