DEMONSTRATORS TAKE TO THE STREETS FOR A UNITY MARCH TO COMMEMORATE THE ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY DEATH OF FREDDIE GRAY!
“A unity march was held Saturday to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Freddie Gray death that led to the Baltimore City riots, but has anything really changed since then?”
Baltimore: It was Saturday. The temperatures in the upper 50’s, and people seem to be at ease – Calm, collected, and friendly. It didn’t matter where you came from, who you were, or even the color of your skin. The people that showed up for today’s Unity march all shared one common goal – to march for Justice and change for the neighborhoods of Western Baltimore City.
The march was organized by the Peoples Power Assembly in Baltimore and the starting point was the CVS on Pennsylvania Avenue. As I waited for the event to get under way, I often wondered how CVS felt about the event unfolding right outside their store where one year ago was burnt down as a result of the Baltimore riots.
Over in the northeast corner where a MTA hub sits, the rally begins, and someone began to speak through a loudspeaker about the injustice to Freddie Gray and so many others.
Family and friends of victims eventually got their chance to speak too. As the rally went on people gathered around to listen and cheer on in agreement with the speakers. I noticed some were holding signs. One sign said, “Justice for 12 year old Tamir Rice”, another said, “Justice for Sandra Bland”, “jobs, not police killings”, “Black Lives Matter”, “Disarm the Police”, “Justice for Freddie Gray”, and so many more.
As the rally got more intense and the victims’ families began to speak, I took notice of a small police presence that began to form in the area. There was a group of police officers on foot across the street, three of them that came over to the side of the rally and stood from a distance. There was a constant passing of police cars, and even a police helicopter was hovering above.
All this commotion and activity made me think back to what this might had sounded and looked like one year ago with all the confusion, the angry rioters, fires, and the looting. Believe it or not, all these things took place on this very same street one year ago and I could only think that what I am seeing and hearing today was only a very, very small piece of what happened back then. Not even close to what happened then.
As the rally ended, and the march began, the protesters chanted, “All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray” in unity, along with some other slogans. The march went on along the streets and locations where it all went downhill with Freddie Gray, including the Western District Police station where officers had barricades set up outside and a line of officers behind them. As the march passed, at least two protesters jumped out of the march and began to go after the officers but the march went on without them.
Motorists pulled over to let the marchers by sitting silently, and some chanted slogans from their driver’s seat with in support as they passed and neighbors came to their doors, raised their fists above their heads in celebration as the group passed by. I wondered why these same people didn’t join with this Unity March.
As the march returned to Pennsylvania Avenue and turned down North Avenue towards I-83, a police helicopter was seen again hovering above as if monitoring and follow the Unity March. Then moments later at the I-83 overpass on North Avenue, at least four police cars was quickly pulled up behind the group as they marched towards the ending point. A police officer in a white uniform was seen on foot between the row of police cars and the group with a video camera.
I am assuming that since most high ranking officers in Baltimore wear a white uniform, that’s exactly what he was. I am not sure the reasoning behind his actions near the end point of the march, but I couldn’t help but think that Baltimore Police are now intimidating the peaceful group. As the group took notice, the march stopped moving forward to only turn to face the officers, and they began to create a human like chain, holding each other arm in arm in a straight line across. The organizer soon reminded everyone of their common goal, and the march moved on.
The group finally reached the ending point of the Unity march, where food and drinks were waiting for the tired group. There were chairs set up in a circle, music sounded softly in the background and a few speakers ended the day with a prayer. As the group socialized, I couldn’t help but notice even more police officers across the street where they sat and starred at the gathering. I don’t even think the group took notice of them and finally, the day came to end with no violence and with much meaning.
So one year later, there doesn’t seem to be much improvement between the western neighborhoods of Baltimore City and Baltimore Police. I often ask myself why. Why are the people of Baltimore so mad and angry at the police still a year later? Why are they mad at police officers who were not even involved with the Freddie Gray incident? Why do police continue to intimidate the people they are sworn to protect and serve?
I think we can all agree on one thing. The focus is right. “Justice and change”. That’s what neighborhoods in western Baltimore City have been demanding for a year now. We know that justice is in the process of being served as six Baltimore City police officers were charged in the death of Freddie Gray on May 1, 2015 by States Attorney Marilyn B. Mosely , but change has yet to come. So what is Baltimore City doing to bring change to Baltimore?
The riots resulted in over 200 injured Baltimore City Police officers and millions of dollars in damages. It is said that the riots were the results of youngsters who declared a “purge” on social media back in April 2015,but those youngsters, parents, and even witnesses told a very different story.
Part Two: A Look Back At The Baltimore City Riots
Purge is in reference to a movie, where crime is made legal. The purge was to begin at Mondawmin Mall at 3 P.M. and venture down Pennsylvania Avenue and into the Baltimore inner harbor. With tensions running high on the day of Freddie Gray’s funeral, police began alerting area businesses including schools and colleges and soon after, schools began canceling classes and businesses started closing up. Some businesses were seen boarding up their stores as if a hurricane was about to hit town.
And at 3 P. M. it all began. Approximately 100 Students began clashing with police at Mondawmin Mall where dozens of police officers in riot gear were waiting for them. The youngsters began pelting the officers with bottles, rocks, bricks, and anything they could get their hands on.
In a Baltimore Sun article, Vaughn DeVaughn, a Baltimore teacher told the Sun, “This is about anger and frustration and them not knowing how to express it”.
When school let out on the day the Purge was declared, police officers were in the area in full riot gear. Eyewitnesses told Mother Jones, “When school let out that afternoon, police were stopping buses forcing risers, including students who were trying to get home, to disembark, cops shut down the local subway stop. They also blocked Mondawmin Mall and Frederick Douglas High School, which is across the street from the mall, and essentially cpraa;ed young people in the area. That is, they did not allow the after-school crowd to disperse.”
Meghann Harris, a teacher at a nearby school said, “Police were forcing buses to stop and unload all their passengers. Then, [Frederick Douglass High School] students, in huge herds, were trying to leave on various buses but couldn’t catch any because they were all shut down. No kids were yet around except about 20, who looked like they were waiting for police to do something. The cops, on the other hand, were in full riot gear, marching toward any small social clique of students…It looked as if there were hundreds of cops.”
“The kids were “standing around in groups of 3-4,” Harris said in a Facebook message to Mother Jones. “They weren’t doing anything. No rock throwing, nothing…The cops started marching toward groups of kids who were just milling about.”
“A parent who picked up his children from a nearby elementary school, says via Twitter, “The kids stood across from the police and looked like they were asking them ‘why can’t we get on the buses’ but the police were just gazing…Majority of those kids aren’t from around that neighborhood. They NEED those buses and trains in order to get home.” He continued: “If they would’ve let them children go home, yesterday wouldn’t have even turned out like that.”
Meg Gibson, another Baltimore teacher, described a similar scene to Gawker: “The riot police were already at the bus stop on the other side of the mall, turning buses that transport the students away, not allowing students to board. They were waiting for the kids…Those kids were set up, they were treated like criminals before the first brick was thrown.” With police unloading busses, and with the nearby metro station shut down, there were few ways for students to clear out.”
The video speaks for itself:
Freddie Gray as we all know him became a focal point in the national debate over police treatment of African Americans. Freddie Gray was arrested and then sustained a spinal cord injury after he was transported in a police van. He died one week later. The Baltimore City riots soon followed, but has anything really changed since then?
Part Three: What Has Changed:
Following the riots and when the smoke cleared Baltimore still looked much the same. City trucks hauled off rocks and debris from the riots, but the dilapidated homes still remain and Baltimore still seems to have a problem with violence. Pervasive problems of economic disparity remains, a lack of job opportunity for young black people, and limited resources for disenfranchised children.
Baltimore City made promises. The police Commissioner was fired, and justice is being served for the six police officer charged with the in-custody death of Freddie Gray to name a couple.
Change in Baltimore has been slowly progressing but still Baltimore chooses to spend its tax incentive dollars in the inner harbor and downtown areas. For the most part, people that Freddie Gray represents, nothing has really changed. The schools are still underfunded, neighborhoods remain dilapidated, and the city still remains with no job change since the riots.
Here’s a look at what has changed since the Baltimore City Riots:
As a result of the now, police commissioner Davis’s creation of the “War Room which is a collaborative effort among the police department and local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to identify repeat gun offenders, gun arrests are up 52% from last year.