Local Michael Jackson impersonator, Dimitri Reeves, dances at the intersection of North Avenue and Monroe Street. (Julie Scharper/Baltimore Sun)
The rear door of the yellow truck rolled open and Dimitri Reeves swung down.
"There's a place in your heart, and I know that it is love," sang Reeves, pressing his hand to his chest. "This place could be much brighter than tomorrow."
Crooning Michael Jackson's "Heal the World," Reeves glided through a crowd at North Avenue and Monroe Street, the same spot where he performed during Monday's riots.
Videos of Reeves dancing to "Beat It" between protesters and a phalanx of police have been viewed millions of times this week.
On Thursday afternoon, gray-haired ladies swayed together. A woman rocked her baby to sleep to the music. Men nodded their heads and hoisted their cell phones to record the man who has become known as the Michael Jackson of Baltimore.
"It healed my heart," said Alvin Jackson, 27, who lives in this stretch of West Baltimore that was hardest hit by the week's destruction. "This is how it's supposed to be."
For four hours, Reeves channeled the spirit of the King of Pop at this battered corner, belting out "Billie Jean," shimmying up a police surveillance camera pole and a stopped garbage truck, moonwalking across the crosswalk in scuffed black loafers.
He ducked in the truck to change, shrugging on a white jacket like Jackson on the cover of "Thriller," a suit of black-and-gold armor, and a T-shirt thrown by a woman in the crowd. It read "I bleed Baltimore."
A gaunt older woman kicked off her shoes to slow dance with him. A little girl poked her head from a metal security door and grinned. Even two Baltimore police officers in a tactical unit truck smiled and waved as they passed.
"I want to bring positivity to the streets," said Reeves, 22, on a break between songs. Fans handed him T-shirts and posters to sign as he sat on the sidewalk by his equipment — three speakers and two suitcases in which he stores his costumes.
Reeves moved to Baltimore from St. Mary's County 21/2 years ago, and has been impersonating Michael Jackson in the city's streets ever since — often on Greenmount Avenue or in front of Lexington Market.
Reeves hopes to snag a record deal one day. Until then, he plays parties and gatherings and collects tips from his street performances. He dedicated his Thursday performance to Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old who suffered a fatal spinal injury while in police custody, and said he planned to donate his tips to Gray's family.
As a police helicopter circled overhead, Reeves said he hoped he could be a calming presence.
"I want Baltimore to make it through this and be stronger," said Reeves. He said he hadn't been scared of being hit by a rock or rubber bullet Monday night. He felt he needed to bring music to the confrontation.
Lennard Gray (no relation to Freddie Gray) paused on the corner to watch. The 42-year-old had just come from visiting his eye doctor, next to the CVS store that was looted and torched Monday.
"It's uplifting. It's just what the city needs right now," Gray said of the music. He studies business management at the Baltimore City Community College and is currently homeless, spending his nights on friends' sofas.
Across North Avenue, Leah Madison and several friends handed out plates of cheese ravioli and salads to dozens of passersby.
"You want some food, baby?" she said, handing a plate to a little girl with purple beads in her braids.
The 27-year-old Towson University graduate lives in New Jersey but came back to Baltimore to help. She collected food donations from a restaurant to give to the community.
"This is me doing my part," said Madison. She said she's been feeling intense anxiety since learning of Gray's death, but Reeves' music soothed her nerves.