MLK marchers have brief face-off with police

Demonstrators marching through downtown Baltimore on Saturday to mark the approaching Martin Luther King Jr. holiday had a brief face-off with the police, but the two sides parted ways peacefully without arrests.

About 50 marchers who were beginning a three-day trek to Washington, D.C., to decry economic and social inequality stopped at about 1 p.m. at the corner of Howard and Lexington streets — the former location of Read's Drug Store, a landmark in civil rights history. The store was the scene of a sit-in protesting racial segregation by students from what was then Morgan State College in January 1955, months before the Montgomery bus boycott and five years before the more celebrated lunch counter sit-in in Greensboro, N.C.

The police, who had been trying to get the marchers to stay on the sidewalk when they walked down Eutaw Street toward Lexington, kept watch on foot and in several cruisers as the crowd stopped at what is now a boarded-up store and began chanting "No justice, no peace, no racist police." Helena Hicks, 77, who was one of the Morgan students at the 1955 sit-in, took up the bullhorn microphone and began daring the police to try to move her from the center of Lexington Street.

"Ain't nothing here but a bunch of police who got nothing else to do," she said. "I want to see somebody be able to move me."

Another police cruiser pulled up, then another. Soon there were 11 police cars on the scene.

Sgt. Jeff Rivera said the demonstrators have a right to march, but not to block traffic, and not to use the bullhorn in the street, both of which violate the law. He explained the law to a couple of members of the group and told them to move to the sidewalk. After about 15 minutes, they did.

One of the march organizers, Sharon Black, of Baltimore, said she thought the police were too aggressive. One officer, in trying to move her off Eutaw Street, pulled the hood of her parka off at the snaps. Another marcher, Lane Beck, who joined the 1955 sit-in at Read's, said she thought the police had been "exemplary."