Protesters march following confirmation of Kevin Davis
By By Jake Carlo
Oct 20, 2015 | 10:58 AM
On Monday evening demonstrators frustrated with the confirmation of Commissioner Kevin Davis and his waffling on a "rules of engagement" agreement for future protests disrupted a City Council meeting and marched through downtown streets, jamming rush-hour traffic.
Protesters have complained that Davis' approach to street demonstrations is heavy-handed, and that while his rhetoric strikes a conciliatory tone, his department's policies are intended to marginalize the protest movement that has sprung up in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray in April.
Monday's demonstration began shortly after a 12-2 vote by the City Council to permanently appoint Davis to the commissioner position, a post he has held on an interim basis since Anthony Batts was fired in July.
A group of about 20 protesters stood in the council chambers and interrupted the proceedings with a chant of "mic check!" before a recitation of grievances against Davis' policies led by Makayla Gilliam-Price, a member of the student activist group City Bloc and lead organizer of Monday's protests.
"He said he would stand by all of our demands, and he lied," the group intoned before filing out of the room chanting "No justice, no peace, no racist police," as Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young called for the group to be removed from the chamber by an unusually large police detail.
Davis was not in attendance at Monday's council meeting, but was sworn in by Rawlings-Blake just hours after the vote at a community meeting in Park Heights.
Although protesters filed peacefully out of council chambers, tensions flared briefly outside the meeting where Gilliam-Price's group and about 60 others who had been denied access to the mostly reserved seating in the council chamber were confronted by a group of 10 police who told them to leave the building or face arrest. Demonstrators reluctantly complied, leaving the building chanting slogans decrying "racist-ass cops."
Once outside, the group began to march south, taking over Holliday Street and, a few minutes later, forming a ring at the intersection of Lombard and Commerce streets that brought traffic to a standstill.
Appearing to want to stay a step ahead of police and avoid a direct confrontation, but followed closely by a group of about 20 officers, protesters proceeded west on Lombard Street for a quarter of a mile.
As they marched, protest leaders held running negotiations with police commanders Col. Melissa Hyatt and Lt. Charles Thompson while largely ignoring shouted commands from lower-ranking members of the force to clear the street.
Speaking after the march, Lt. Thompson said that determining when and how to intervene in a street march, and on what grounds, was not governed by clearly defined rules.
"You've got to go through a decision-making process in your own mind, like everybody," Thompson said.
"The traffic manual's about two inches thick, so any time you step onto a public highway you're subject to about 1,200 articles," he said.
After looping south on Charles and east on Pratt Street, the group finally moved off the street and into McKeldin Square at the Inner Harbor.
As the rest of the group recited the names of victims of police violence from around the country, protest leaders huddled to decide their next steps after being informed that further disruption of automotive or pedestrian traffic would lead to arrests.
Addressing the crowd, Adam Jackson, head of the activist group Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, said, "I think we're better off outside, advocating, than being incarcerated this evening."
"There's plenty of time to get arrested," Jackson said, adding, "It's not fun getting arrested, I can tell you that much."
Jackson was one of 16 activists taken into custody last Wednesday during a sit-in at City Hall following an initial council committee hearing on Davis' appointment.
As Monday's rally wound down, Tre Murphy, an organizer with the Baltimore Algebra Project who was also arrested last week, said that he and other protesters were willing to face incarceration again, but only when the time was right.
"The police have proven that they are not willing to meet us halfway, so to have the same people get arrested would only deepen the tensions, and the system would then use that as ammunition to get back at peaceful protesters," Murphy said.