A few dozen protesters marched across downtown Baltimore Saturday airing more than just concerns over the death of Freddie Gray.
The group, led by the Rev. Cortly “C.D.” Witherspoon, chanted the familiar “No justice, no peace” refrain that has echoed across the city since the 25-year-old Gray suffered a spinal injury while in police custody last month.
But they also spoke out against the state’s approval this week of a $30 million youth jail, called for amnesty for those still facing charges related to protests after Gray’s death, and demanded investment in the city’s poor neighborhoods.
“This is an uprising,” Witherspoon told the crowd. “People are standing up and for the first time are saying enough is enough and meaning it.”
As the march unfolded, police investigated a quadruple shooting on the city’s east side. Two men and two women were shot, less than a day after police reported two fatal shootings in the city — bringing the total to 35 homicides in the past month.
While protests last month led to confrontations with police and baseball fans at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, organizers opted to avoid the crowds and heavy police presence at the Preakness Stakes several miles away at Pimlico Race Course. Sharon Black, an organizer with the group Baltimore People's Power Assembly, told protesters they planned to avoid such heated interactions until more of the protestors could undergo civil disobedience training.
The protest came as other community groups meanwhile worked to begin the healing process, reconciling residents of the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood where Gray was arrested with police. The West Baltimore Commission on Police Misconduct listened to testimony of those who say they've been mistreated by police, and organizers called it a step toward restoring trust between residents and police.
Protesters gathered Saturday at McKeldin Square, where speakers shared stories of run-ins with police. A group of about half a dozen police officers were posted across the square, and kept their distance. Officers blocked traffic at some intersections as the protesters marched to the Baltimore Juvenile Justice Center and the city Central Booking and Intake Center.
Police had said they planned to position more officers in the neighborhoods around Pimlico Race Course on Saturday in case of unnanounced protests around the Preakness, and spokesman Capt. Eric Kowalczyk said they would “ensure the peaceful expression of people's First Amendment Constitutional rights.”
Earlier in the day, activists took a different tactic toward preventing violent interactions with police — by allowing residents to air frustrations and fears about police. Laywers from the West Baltimore Commission, a collaboration of the No Boundaries Coalition, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, the Greater Baltimore Urban League and the NAACP, listened and videotaped testimony from Sandtown-Winchester residents at the neighborhood’s Sharon Baptist Church.
“It really is a culture of oppression,” a neighborhood resident named Robert told the gathering. The groups asked that speakers not be identified out of fear of reprisal from officers.
Organizers said the goal was to inform later discussions with police over law enforcement strategies in the neighborhood.
“We’re not anti-police,” said Terrell Williams, an organizer for Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, or BUILD. “The system has to be changed.”