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News Maryland Baltimore Crime Beat

City protesters march to decry police actions in St. Louis and at home

Hundreds of demonstrators streamed into the Inner Harbor on Thursday evening to protest police misconduct and brutality and stand in solidarity with residents of Ferguson, Mo., where the fatal police shooting of an 18-year-old has sparked days of civil unrest.

The rally began as dozens of people gathered outside the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse, then walked southeast to city police headquarters to decry the deaths of men in the custody of Baltimore police or after police interactions. The group grew in size in front of City Hall as protesters marched together through rush-hour traffic to the Inner Harbor.

"Hands up, don't shoot," people shouted as they went. Just after 7 p.m., those in the crowd of about 300 raised their hands high, hung their heads low and observed a moment of silence to remember Michael Brown, the 18-year-old killed Saturday by a Ferguson police officer and whose death has sparked days of unrest in the St. Louis suburb. Around the country, other demonstrators were doing the same, organized by a social media campaign called the National Moment of Silence.

All along the way, Baltimore traffic police escorted the group while uniformed officers stood quietly on the outskirts of the crowd. There were no guns pointed at protesters, as was the case in Ferguson on Wednesday night. Instead, several Baltimore police officers pointed camcorders at the crowd for reasons police did not disclose.

"For police officers, there is a double standard. Police can kill at will," the Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon, president of the Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, told the crowd. "We're here states and states away to stand in solidarity."

The marchers said the events in Ferguson tapped into their own feelings of police mistrust, and the names of black men and boys who have died after interactions with Baltimore police were evoked repeatedly.

"I'm here because of the history of murder that has been perpetrated upon the citizens of Baltimore and all over the nation," said Patricia Salter, 54, who described herself as a caseworker.

As similar sentiments were spoken through a loudspeaker outside police headquarters, officers standing on guard showed no emotion. City officials, preparing for the demonstration, erected bike-rack fencing around City Hall and the Inner Harbor. Authorities did not interrupt protesters in any fashion.

Among the names most often repeated by the crowd were those of Tyrone West and Anthony Anderson, two men who died in Baltimore police custody in 2013 and 2012, respectively. Their deaths prompted previous protests against police and prosecutors, who cleared officers of any wrongdoing.

West, 44, died July 18, 2013, after police said he fought with officers after a traffic stop in Northeast Baltimore. Based on accounts from witnesses, West's family believes police used excessive force and killed him. An autopsy determined he died after the summer heat and the struggle with officers exacerbated a heart condition.

Baltimore police authorized an independent review of the arrest, released last week, that showed that while officers didn't use excessive force, they did not follow protocols and "potentially aggravated the situation." The report said the officers did not follow procedures after pulling over West, detectives conducted a biased investigation and the department has too many inexperienced officers in positions that aren't adequately supervised.

Anderson, 46, died Sept. 21, 2012, after Baltimore police tackled him after allegedly observing him slip a bag of heroin gel capsules into his mouth. Medical examiners ruled that he died of blunt force trauma after his spleen was ruptured, causing internal bleeding. State pathologists say he also had a liver ailment that limited his ability to clot blood.

Speakers also often mentioned George V. King, a 19-year-old foster youth, who was a patient at Good Samaritan Hospital. On May 7, the King family's attorney and law enforcement sources say, a fight between him and hospital staff drew a police officer who used his Taser five times to subdue King, who died.

"Young people are afraid of the police," said Greta Carter. She runs the Kevin L. Cooper Foundation, named for her 14-year-old son who died after a Baltimore police officer shot him in 2006. She hopes it will improve community and police relations.

Carter had called police to help with the disruptive boy. Police said the teen hit the officer with a broom handle which broke and came at the officer again with its jagged edge. Carter has maintained that her son didn't touch the officer, who she has said was antagonizing the teen as she stood between them.

The officer did not face criminal charges and was cleared administratively.

"They kill them, then they come together and lock ranks," Carter told demonstrators through a megaphone.

In Ferguson, the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant of Baltimore's Empowerment Temple has taken an active and prominent role organizing activists and residents demonstrating against what they believe to be serious problems of racial inequity. Bryant also flew to Florida in 2012 to stand with Trayvon Martin's family and took an active role in calling for charges against the neighborhood watch coordinator who shot him.

"It's been really a disturbing and inspiring, all at the same time, moment for me," he said over the phone. "Even working through the Trayvon Martin case, I've never seen the kind of stress and anxiety that I've witnessed in Ferguson. Thousands of young people have taken to the streets, looking visibly shaken, looking for answers."

Bryant said law enforcement authorities in Ferguson, in addition to using unnecessary rubber bullets and tear gas on peaceful protesters, are stonewalling residents about why Brown was killed. He said investigators need to release the name of the officer who shot Brown so his background can be scrutinized.

The shooting death, Bryant said, and the recent death of a black man who died while being detained by New York City police have galvanized people across the country to unify and speak out.

"It's opening up a larger debate or national conversation about police brutality or police inequity in the case of minorities," he said. "You cannot minimize or ignore the response and the traction that public outrage begins to pull together."

jgeorge@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justingeorge

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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