Still seeking answers, protesters young and old march through downtown Thursday
By By Caitlin Goldblatt
Apr 24, 2015 | 5:11 PM
As helicopters flew low over downtown Baltimore and dozens of police officers stood in formation behind the barricades separating City Hall from the plaza in front of it, Rev. Jamal H. Bryant of the Empowerment Temple, addressed hundreds of assembled protesters: "We're not here calling for revenge—we are calling for justice. Shame on the Baltimore Police Department for putting up these barricades."
Bryant added that Gray's funeral would be on Monday, April 27, at 11 a.m. at New Shiloh Baptist Church and said individuals visiting houses of worship on Sunday are encouraged to wear gray to show solidarity with Freddie Gray. He concluded that, "No matter how many barricades [the police] put up, they cannot stop the voice of the people!"
Thursday marked the sixth day of protests following the death of Freddie Gray, 25, who sustained severe injuries while in Baltimore City Police custody. Among the residents protesting were members of the Baltimore City Council, ACLU, Nation of Islam, Baltimore Bloc, SEIU, and some Baltimore City public defenders, but Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who gave a press conference on Friday, was notably absent. Some protesters felt they could take care of their communities better than local government and law enforcement.
One of Gray's friends implored the crowd: "Stay in the streets. You are doing the right thing. Don't let anyone tell you to wait for the system to work. We've seen how the system works."
As the crowd departed City Hall and moved toward west toward downtown, police cars and officers riding motorcycles took to the roads adjacent to the protesters' route. Chants of "Hands up, don't shoot!" and "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!" continued, occasionally to the sound of cars honking along to the beat. Those leading the march broke into a sprint to the front of the U.S. Courthouse on Lombard Street, chanting, "Freddie."
The march briefly gathered on the grass in front of the courthouse, with Freddie's friends offering passionate words about how his death had affected them, his family, and his neighborhood as a whole.
The group marched toward the Inner Harbor, where police officers stationed themselves in front of Harborplace doors to prevent occupation. Those assembled dipped briefly into Federal Hill and then began to head towards the Western District police station. Police cars and vans blocked nearby Interstate entrance ramps in an apparent attempt to prevent marches onto the highway.
After several miles of marching, the large group stood before the barricades separating them from police officers, including some brought in from other districts, guarding the station.
Officers on the steps of the station took turns filming the rally. Early on, a younger man spoke about life as a West Baltimore resident, stating that, "It would've been us. We've gotta deal with murder every day, and from [the police]. We're tired people. Leave us alone."
National camera crews milled around, interviewing various people and filming the action. Children holding their parents' hands carried signs that read "I am Freddie Gray." Many officers did not initially make eye contact with the people before them chanting and asking questions, but at one point, a white male officer responded to an older man repeatedly asking why police target black people with, "I don't know." Police transport trucks sat on the perimeter of the block, though only two arrests were made by the end of the night.
Around 8 p.m., a small group of young men began a series of impromptu reenactments of atrocities historically committed against black people. They began with a simulated lynching wearing fake handcuffs and utilizing an American flag and concluded with the choking death of Eric Garner, which began a chant of his now-familiar last words, "I can't breathe."
As the rally dispersed in the late evening, the police officers had begun to relax and chat with those people who remained, some of whom they seemed to know from the neighborhood. Activists distributed quarter sheets to promote a march from Gilmor Homes, where officers initially detained Gray, to the Western District police station, then to City Hall on Saturday. As one elderly woman left, she told a friend that, "The mayor won't show up for us, but we're showing up."