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Baltimore Protests Following the Death of Freddie Gray

Baltimore has seen a number of protests following the death of Freddie Gray, 25, who died on April 19th, a week after his spine was 80% severed and his voice box crushed while in police custody. While there have been numerous demonstrations throughout the week with protestors expressing their anger at yet another police killing of an unarmed Black man, this weekend received the brunt of media sensationalization.

Alana Davenport, reporting on the protests writes:

[Most of the media sensationalized the small amount of property damage that took place during demonstrations last weekend–while downplaying all evidence of the systemic racism and police violence that stirred this reaction.

THE NARRATIVE in the media is that protests against Freddie Gray’s death supposedly “turned violent” without provocation on Saturday, April 25. The press has focused on smashed windows and traffic disruptions downtown that night, the “looting” of a 7-Eleven store, and confrontations with officers near the Western District police headquarters.

Ignored in these representations is that day’s eight hours-plus of peaceful demonstrations that started in the economically devastated Black neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester, where Freddie Gray lived. Later, protesters marched through downtown and converged on City Hall, where the crowd swelled to about 2,000 people–all without incident.

The media aren’t reporting photos circulating on social media of members of the Crips and Bloods gangs standing side by side in protest, along with members of the Nation of Islam–after calling a truce to come together to demand justice. Also written out of the news are the images of racially diverse families with children, elderly people, clergy with their congregations, union workers, students and community activists who all came together with the message: “All night, all day, we’re gonna fight for Freddie Gray!”

The media also haven’t provided context for the property damage, which some protesters say was at least partially provoked by intoxicated sports fans, downtown for that evening’s Orioles game, who reportedly shouted racial epithets and threw water bottles at a group of about 100 people who broke off from the larger march to head toward the heavily guarded baseball stadium.

The claim by Baltimore officials that the property damage was the work of “outside agitators”–another connection to Ferguson–fails to acknowledge the deep and justified anger of city residents.

THERE ARE many activists and organizations in Baltimore that have been doing long, painstaking work against police brutality for years, but their struggles have gone largely unreported.

Baltimore Bloc has organized with the families of the victims of police brutality and monitored police activity to keep communities informed. They supported Tawanda Jones, the sister of Tyrone West, who was beaten to death by police in 2013, in her organization of weekly “West Wednesday” protests since her brother was killed.

The Baltimore Algebra Project has called attention to the school-to-prison pipeline and successfully stopped a new youth jail from being constructed. City Bloc is a group of students at Baltimore City College who have led young people in protest against police brutality. The Right to Housing Alliance has been instrumental in fighting the economic violence against targeted Black communities around tenants’ rights and the water shutoffs, while also speaking out against police misconduct.

This year, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle and Rev. Heber Brown III of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church worked together to push for legislation to amend the “Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights,” which is a barrier to police accountability and hinders investigations of civilian complaints.

The Ujima People’s Progress Party has community control of police as part of its platform and has been working to reform the Civilian Review Board, which currently does not have the power to subpoena or charge officers who have complaints made against them and rarely hears complaints.

UNITE HERE Local 7, which organizes low-wage workers in the hotel, gaming, food service, airport, laundry and other service industries, unanimously voted to support the Black Lives Matter movement and has turned out in numbers at the protests against police violence. The All People’s Congress and Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore called for mass gatherings around the murders of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray.

Activism in Baltimore is notoriously fragmented, but around the killing of Freddie Gray, some groups have made an attempt to work together in coalition, forming Bmore United as a centralized way for people to get information, share resources and offer support around the issue of police brutality and accountability in Baltimore.

Black Lawyers for Justice is planning to hold a town hall meeting on April 29, and more protests are set for Saturday, May 2.

So far, the response of the political and press establishment to the Baltimore protests has centered on minor vandalism and the 34 arrests. Those arrests were mainly of young Black men, including those who had not been violent, but were targeted for merely being vocal. Many who protested peacefully refuse to distance themselves from those who broke windows because they can see how the media are using this issue to discredit the movement as a whole.

In fact, the massive police mobilization–an estimated 1,200 cops from Baltimore and other jurisdictions, along with state troopers, took part in policing Saturday’s protests–has stoked entirely justified anger. In effect, the city mobilized an occupying force to stand guard in front of an empty stadium, long before sports fans arrived–a clear display of the city’s priority of protecting property, and not the lives of Black city residents.

After days of protesting Gray’s murder, only to be met by more violence and repression from the robo-cops, it’s not surprising when there are bitter expressions of anger among protests. But these examples are not the real crime–far from it.

Accepting “business as usual” in Baltimore might feel like “peace” to the city’s elite, but what it actually means is more police brutality, more mass incarceration, more economic violence, the devastation of Black communities and more deaths–and that deserves to be disrupted until we have justice.]


Read the full article here.


Title: We have a right to be in the streets for Freddie
By: Alana Davenport with contributions from Ben Blake
Date: April 27, 2015