Ferguson protesters take to Baltimore streets

In Baltimore, Ferguson protests involved lying on sidewalks, blocking streets.

Hundreds of demonstrators turned out in Baltimore to voice frustration and solidarity with protesters in Ferguson, Mo., marching through downtown streets and shutting down the entrance to Interstate 83.

At Morgan State University, students blocked several intersections near campus, forming a giant square at Loch Raven Boulevard and Cold Spring Lane, shouting "No justice, no peace."

Protesters lined Mount Royal Avenue holding black umbrellas near the Maryland Institute College of Art, while someone used black spray paint to write "R.I.P. Michael Brown" on the side of a mobile Baltimore Police command center in South Baltimore.

Police said the demonstrations were mostly peaceful. Hourlong traffic backups caused the most commotion, with officers shutting downtown streets to allow marchers to make their way around the Inner Harbor and City Hall. Demonstrators said they just wanted people to stop and listen.

"That's the only way we're going to be heard," said Davon Perry, 26. "We have to be loud. We're just a scratch. We want to be an annoyance."

Police spokesman Detective Howard Ruganzu reported no arrests and no property damage Tuesday evening. He said one protester was hit by a truck, and officers called an ambulance to the scene. The injuries were not life-threatening.

The protests began a day after a Missouri grand jury chose not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown. The decision launched the Midwestern city into a night of rallies that were marred by rioting, looting and exchanges of tear gas, rocks and bottles between demonstrators and police.

While few condoned the violence and property damage near St. Louis, many in Baltimore also said they were angry, believing police officers are too quick to shoot African-Americans, and that such deadly force often isn't justified.

The Baltimore Police Department has also faced allegations of brutality. An officer was suspended in September after a video surfaced of him repeatedly punching a man at a bus stop, and the deaths of two men while in the custody of Baltimore police officers have stoked criticism. Officers were cleared of wrongdoing in those deaths.

The Baltimore Sun recently reported that the city has paid $5.7 million in court judgments and settlements in 102 civil suits alleging police misconduct since 2011. The U.S. Department of Justice has since launched a wide-ranging review of the department, including allegations of brutality.

While residents and activists say recent incidents have contributed to a strong mistrust of law enforcement, Baltimore hasn't seen the kind of violence that has marred Ferguson. The small Missouri city has seen looting, fires and violence, and on Tuesday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon ordered an additional 1,500 National Guard troops to join 700 already there.

"People show their emotions in a lot of ways, and we can't control that," Baltimore NAACP chapter president Tessa Hill-Aston said.

Hill-Aston stood along side Baltimore police Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez at a noon news conference, where Rodriguez said his department was "working hard to restore our legitimacy" and regain the public's trust.

Rodriguez said police deployment plans were designed to ensure that demonstrators could express themselves freely Tuesday, while Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said peaceful protests were "the best way to honor Michael Brown's memory."

"In Baltimore, we will support the rights of those residents who choose to demonstrate peacefully and work to ensure resident safety as they exercise their First Amendment rights," she said in a statement.

While Tuesday was marked with protests and demonstrations, many took to social media to show support for Wilson. The officer had been justified because he was defending himself from a violent attack, supporters said, and the grand jury's decision proved that.

Wilson appeared on national television Tuesday. He said he has a "clean conscience" and denied that Brown had his hands in the air when he shot.

Meanwhile, politicians debated the impact of the case, especially on race relations, around the country.

"It's not my place to second-guess a grand jury decision — especially one that didn't happen in our state," said Maryland Gov.-elect Larry Hogan, a Republican. "It's obviously an issue that has enraged some folks on the other side of the aisle."

"It really doesn't impact Maryland," he added.

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said Brown's death was "an opportunity for Congress to set aside its party differences and put the people first by passing the End Racial Profiling Act."

"I also support the Justice Department's civil rights investigation of the Ferguson Police Department and other Departments around the nation, including Baltimore's," she said in a statement.

U.S. House Democratic Whip Rep. Steny H. Hoyer said in a statement that he understood why people are angry, "given the long history of justice denied in a nation that is supposed to uphold blind, equal justice under law."

"We cannot give up on our efforts to advance the cause of equality and justice," he said.

Demonstrations in Baltimore began before noon on Tuesday. A group of about 20 young people gathered in front of the Angelos Law Center building in front of the University of Baltimore School of Law and counted down until 11:51 a.m. — the reported time of day Brown was shot — before raising their hands to the gray sky, shouting, "Hands up, don't shoot."

Many then lay down on the sidewalk, splayed like dead bodies as others drew chalk outlines around them. Those on the ground did not move for four minutes and 30 seconds — meant to symbolize the time in hours and minutes that it took for Brown's body to be removed from the Ferguson street after he had been killed.

Michelle Gomez, 25, an elementary school teacher, said she joined the demonstration because she feared many of the Afro-Latino children she teaches could someday end up like Brown.

"My heart felt really heavy this morning," she said. "What happened to Michael Brown could easily happen to them."

At Morgan, protesters marched around campus and congregated on the steps outside the Northeast Baltimore police district building before continuing up Hillen Road. The group stopped at the intersection of Hillen and Cold Spring Lane, where they formed a large circle linking arms. They held a moment of silence while several drivers waiting at the blocked intersection and honked their horns.

Uniformed police officers remained at the perimeter of the crowd, directing traffic, while a police helicopter hovered above, and an officer asked protesters to move out of the street.

Some moved but others remained defiantly in the middle of the intersection. Some sat on the pavement.

A blue sedan attempted to drive through the crowd but was stopped by a handful of protesters who stood in its path. One young man held a sign toward the driver that read, "Will I survive in America?"

Faraji Mahammad, an event organizer and coordinator with the America Friends Service Committee, said the rally was meant to raise awareness about police brutality.

"We're awake, we're ready, we're alive," he said. "We are ready to move full throttle in making changes."

Nyjla White-EL, a 21-year-old Morgan student, said the protest was modeled after nonviolent civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s. "We have to get loud," she said. Doing nothing, "that's not getting us anywhere."

Lamont Crumily, another Morgan student, said that as he marched he thought of his young son, who he had dropped off at day care before joining the other demonstrators.

"We are tired of the killings," he said, not just by police officers but even between young men in the community. "After a while, it gets old."

Many of the Morgan students joined demonstrators at City Hall. Several groups gathered at different places downtown. One loud crowd blocked the intersection of Fayette and President streets in front of Baltimore police headquarters, where uniformed officers and Maryland State Police troopers formed lines between traffic and the demonstrators.

For more than an hour, the crowd chanted "Whose streets, our streets" and "Pigs go home." Some protesters came within inches of police officers, who did not react even as they were called the "klan."

"I'm very proud of my officers," Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said.

The crowd marched south as the night wore on, blocking streets in Little Italy, shouting out their main message: "Black lives matter."

Baltimore Sun reporters Yvonne Wenger, Carrie Wells and Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

jgeorge@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/justingeorge

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
39°