One Baltimore #43: The Protests of May 30th

6/1/20

The primary election is tomorrow!! I wrote about it in last week’s column (https://one-baltimore.org/2020/05/25/one-baltimore-42-elections-in-the-time-of-covid-19/), but I want to expand a little on something I mentioned — I urge you not to vote for Nick Mosby for City Council President. I could talk about a couple different reasons why, but the biggest by far is that his wife, Marilyn Mosby, is the City State’s Attorney. 

Marilyn Mosby has perpetrated a number of injustices, notably her ongoing persecution of Keith Davis, Jr. for the crime of being mistakenly shot by the cops (https://one-baltimore.org/category/keithdavisjr-2/). Normally I wouldn’t hold someone responsible for the actions of their spouse, but this is an innocent man’s entire life we’re talking about. Nick is an elected official, a State Delegate, he has as much responsibility to champion the cause of the wrongly-imprisoned as anyone… yet he refuses to address this glaring injustice when called on by advocates. If he won’t challenge his wife on this, why should we think he will on anything else?

Of our last four Mayors, three were City Council President first. If Nick Mosby gets the job, there is every chance he’ll be the next to follow this trend, like if the next Mayor goes down to scandal like Dixon and Pugh, or takes another job like O’Malley, or just gets sick. Having a Mayor and City State’s Attorney who are husband and wife has been called by an expert “an unprecedented and dangerous concentration of power” as well as a huge conflict of interest (https://www.wbaltv.com/article/would-mosby-as-mayor-create-conflict-of-interest/6940500). Examples of ways this pairing could become problematic are, say, when it’s time for the Mayor to set the budget for his wife’s office, or when it’s time for the State’s Attorney to investigate wrongdoing in the agencies controlled by her husband.

Who to vote for instead? I’m going with Shannon Sneed, generally considered to be the progressive pick. She introduced legislation to stop automatically testing city employees for marijuana, which obviously I’m in favor of (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/08/26/one-baltimore-15-highs-lows/). And after asking around about her, while it’s not unanimous, I’m satisfied that most people report a very positive experience, that she is thoughtful, hard-working, caring, and good at quiet but impactful leadership. For more on why she’s such a strong choice, check out this synopsis from a friend: https://www.facebook.com/michael.hanes/posts/963797341050/.

Ok, that out of the way, let’s talk about Baltimore standing in solidarity with Minneapolis and others against the out of control police state that’s killing Black people with impunity around the nation.

At 3:30 on Saturday afternoon, a couple of friends and I rolled up to Station North for the protest, late as usual. We knew it was meant to mainly be an in-car event, but it wasn’t clear where everyone was headed, and we had some worries about the cops blockading the street and stopping vehicles from proceeding, so we decided to park and check it out. People with signs in hand were headed west on the sidewalk on North Avenue, so we followed them. Alongside us in the street was a slow line of cars decorated with banners saying things like “DISMANTLE WHITE SUPREMACY” and “SAY THEIR NAMES.”

As we walked, sometimes we were faster than the cars, sometimes they were faster than us. I appreciated the perspective from the ground, how it let me see lots of different people’s signs and faces. It was a diverse crowd, always good to see in our often-segregated city. I waved and said hello to people I recognized along the way, including, in a funny moment, a colleague from my day job. 

We passed by Tawanda Jones, who was chanting protest slogans through a loudspeaker attached to the top of her car, a clever way to get messages out without spraying aerosols into the air. I chanted along a little, but was nervous about spreading my own breath too much, even through my mask.

At Pennsylvania Avenue, we all turned south. The sidewalks were pretty crowded for a few blocks, as usual for that spot, and a fair number of people weren’t wearing masks. We stuck near the curb, avoiding proximity to others as best we could. But it was a beautiful thing, at the same time, interacting with the people we passed who were pleased to see us. 

There was the guy who nodded approvingly as a clump of Black protesters in front of us passed him, saying “Black Lives Matter” to each one. Then, as my (white) companion and I passed him, he said “All Lives Matter,” trying to be inclusive of us, I guess. That actually happened twice, almost the same way each time. It was strange, hearing a phrase that is so often used with such ill intention being deployed in our support.

Then there were the children. A small boy walking with a woman pointed to us questioningly, and she said to him, a smile on her face, “Yes, they’re protesting too.” A little further down, an older boy zig-zagged by on a bicycle, singing N.W.A.’s “Fuck Tha Police.” Feels like a weird thing to admit swearing with a child, but after a minute of this I smiled at him and echoed his chant, “Fuck-fuck-fuck tha police!” which earned me a surprised grin. I figured, hey, it’s not like I’m teaching him anything he doesn’t already know.

We passed older folks as well, leaning on the fences and walls of their homes and apartments, who nodded or pumped their fists and called out “Black Lives Matter!” to us. One woman passing by in the opposite direction danced a little as she walked, happily commenting that it was going down now. 

I thought we might be heading to the Western District Police Station, but instead we continued south and then turned east onto Franklin Street. My feet were killing me by then — I’d worn sturdy boots that are great for hiking on dirt but not so great, it turned out, for keeping up a quick pace for over an hour on concrete. We kept going. It was so good to be out with our friends and allies, those in the chain of cars, in their slow, honking procession around town, other protesters on foot moving ahead and behind us in small groups, and the people we passed.

Plus, by that point we just had a stubborn desire to end up SOMEwhere… though we had now begun to suspect, correctly, that the cars were just going in a big circle around the center of the city. If we’d taken the time to actually read the event details, we would’ve known that people on foot were supposed to take a different, more direct route. If we’d joined that contingent, I suppose we might’ve witnessed Lt. Heron read the names of victims of police violence (https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-police-officials-reads-name-brutality-victims-20200531-6wejit7bindqdicho3mwdafyuy-story.html), which would’ve been interesting… I wonder if he would’ve said Tyrone West’s name if we’d asked him to, considering that BPD has never accepted criminal liability for his death at their hands. 

But it was not to be. Instead, following the cars, we trekked past the Enoch Pratt Central Branch and the Basilica, and on to the Orleans Street bridge over 83. Man, that’s a long bridge. About halfway across, an artist whose work I’ve admired for some time but whom I’d never met before stopped us, recognizing us and our advocacy work. That was pretty fucking cool.

By the time the caravan got to Central & Monument on the east side, we were wiped. We laid in the shade on the rolling, grassy lawn next to a football field, watching the protest caravan continue to go past. I wondered how many people had participated in the day’s events. If we’d all been gathered up, like at a normal protest, it would’ve been easier to get a sense of the scope, but the long, linear nature of the gathering made it difficult to gauge. It seemed like a lot.

Back at home later that night, we relaxed, talked, ate. I put bandaids on my blisters. But then, a text — a friend saying they were down at Guilford and Fayette, unable to leave because the area where their car was parked had been blockaded. They said the police had used tear gas. 

We quickly got ourselves together and grabbed some things — water for flushing out eyes, respirator masks, goggles, gloves. And then we drove downtown, parked a few blocks away, and walked to City Hall.

It was then around 10:30pm. There were maybe a hundred or so people milling about under the bright, stuttering glare of the helicopters circling overhead. Some people were on the streets, some on the sidewalks, some sitting on the bases of the flag poles (from which, I noticed, no flags flew), and some were facing off with the line of police in riot gear who stood in a large semicircle around City Hall, with metal barricades between the two sides.

The police were wearing thick-looking vests and bracers over their black uniforms, and holding tall, clear plastic shields. Plastic face shields hung down from the front of their black helmets. It felt odd to see all of their faces so clearly when so many of the faces around me were covered, like the officers were simultaneously so armored up and so exposed.

In addition to armor, they of course had weapons. Some carried black rifles with long barrels and wide mouths. My companion explained to me that these were the tear gas launchers. She also pointed out to me the long black batons in their hands, how they’d pulled them out recently, how some were twirling them restlessly. She told me to move off to the side with her, and I did. Sure enough, half a minute later, the line of cops pushed forward, moving the metal barricades. The protesters fell back without resistance.

There was, however, some ruckus from the crowd. Every now and then, a bottle would fly overhead and land amongst the police. One time the thing that flew at them was bigger, looking like a twisted metal frame of some kind (maybe a broken folding chair?). Each time this occurred, the crowd would scatter back several yards in alarm, a few people would rush to the offender and tell them off for endangering others, and others would rush to the barricade and hold their hands up, telling the police not to shoot.

Sometimes the cops ignored these provocations, other times they responded. Once a clump of them broke out of their line and chased someone down, I wasn’t sure why. A couple of times, they shot tear gas out into the crowd. It was the first time I’d experienced it, tasting the irritant in the air well before the visible cloud got to us, just as it had been described to me. We hurried off across the street and I put on the respirator mask and goggles. The cloud soon dissipated, and I swapped back to my regular mask.

I asked myself — what should I be doing? Normally, at a time like this, I’d be looking for a mic or a bullhorn, someone giving a speech. But mostly, it was a lot of randomness, side conversations and occasional altercations. Now and then, someone raised their voice and harangued either the crowd or the cops. One man, who I recognized as a powerful speaker from another protest, lectured those around him about the people throwing things. He said that he was tired of “that coward shit,” people standing behind others, tossing something, and running. Don’t run, he said. If you’re going to fight them, fight them, but don’t put others in harm’s way. I appreciated that. 

For a while, I watched one cop. He was standing behind the barricade, alone, between two parked city vehicles, no room for his fellows to flank him. Trying to make sure, I suppose, that no protester jumped the fence and slipped through the gap between the cars and… what? Tried to attack the cops from the rear? Graffitied “BLM” and “FUQ PIGS” on the front of City Hall, like had been done to the sides of the building, the sidewalk, and a city van already? Set the building ablaze? Occupied it and set up a revolutionary government? I realized that I truly had no idea what the goal here was, if any, other than to just stare each other down.

So stare I did. I looked this one particular cop in the eyes and studied his face, hands in my pockets. I’d come to witness, and this was an odd form of witnessing, staring at one dude while the crowd moved around me, but once the idea had occurred to me, it had a certain power, so I kept doing it. I wondered who he was, if he was a sadist… not the kind who organizes kinky parties with lists of rules about consent on the walls, but the kind who kicks people who are already down, who tosses people in cuffs head-first into the wagon, who kneels on people begging for breath.

I wondered if he was friends with Jorge Ruiz, who activists had identified at City Hall earlier in the day. Ruiz was involved in the murder of Tyrone West, as well as in the brutal beating of Abdul Salaam, and has now apparently been promoted to the rank of lieutenant. As Tawanda pointed out (http://baltimorebeat.com/2020/05/31/tawanda-jones-responds-to-george-floyds-death-police-aggression-at-city-hall/), the idea of that particular person being in charge of keeping the peace at a protest against police brutality is outrageous… and also, of course, exactly why we’re protesting in the first place. 

BPD is corrupt and dangerous to its core. We need to disband it. We need to look at the records of each and every one of these officers and we need accountability for their actions. I shouldn’t have to look at an “officer of the peace” and wonder if he’s killed anyone just because he getd his rocks off that way… I should feel confident that someone entrusted with such power would never do such a thing, and that if they did, it wouldn’t be hushed up, it would be prosecuted even more vigorously than if a normal person had done it. 

Today, the protests continue. There will be a youth-led demonstration forming up at Sharp & Pratt at 3:30pm, then a “Peace is Power” gathering at the Central District Police Station at 5pm where everyone is supposed to wear white and bring healing tools / creative projects. I love the tagline for that one: “We intend to gather, not only to destroy the system, but to create a new one.” Details: https://www.facebook.com/bmorebloc/posts/3945295742207281

#OneBaltimore #JusticeForGeorgeFloy #DisbandBPD #BaltimoreProtests

COVID-19 Resource of the Week:

CHARMCare! Managed by the city’s Health Department, it’s got a ton of different resources mapped, from mental health treatment providers to free food distributions to organizations that can help you with utilities and rent. Check it out and (unlike COVID-19) spread it around: https://www.charmcare.org/ 

At City Hall, 5/30/20.

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