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Thousands take to Baltimore streets, I-83 to protest death of George Floyd, police brutality

Protesters confront police in riot gear and a fight broke out among demonstrators.

Thousands of people converged Monday on the streets of Baltimore, marching through downtown, shutting down Interstate 83, closing City Hall and echoing their rallying cry against police brutality from here to Minneapolis. “No justice, no peace!”

The demonstrators swelled throughout a fourth day of protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. By evening, the size of the crowd recalled demonstrations that gripped Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray five years ago.

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Marchers carried their message to the Baltimore City Correctional Center and shouted to the windows. Inmates could be heard taking up their cry of “No justice, no peace!” On the jail walls, some spray-painted “Abolish the police," “Freedom” and “[expletive] 12," slang against the police.

The crowd marched on. Their signs proclaimed “Black Lives Matter” and “Resist.”

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“Shame on you!” they shouted to police officers who stood guard around department headquarters. The young crowd gave voice to the outrage and frustration they felt that, five years after Gray’s death from injuries suffered in Baltimore police custody, yet another black man has died in America at the hands of a police officer.

Still, they shared moments of brotherhood with police. Outside City Hall, they erupted in cheers when a black officer took a knee and raised his fist in solidarity.

“There is nothing that can stop us as long as we are disciplined, calm and keep this movement going," said Sharon Black, who helped organize the effort.

Demonstrators have gathered since Friday to express their anger over Floyd’s death last week in Minneapolis. A black man, Floyd died after a white police officer pinned him to the ground by his neck for nearly nine minutes. Cellphone videos captured Floyd’s pleas of “I can’t breathe.” The Minneapolis officer, Derek Chauvin, has been fired and charged with murder.

“This is ridiculous. When I saw that video of that man — that was the one to spark me to say, ‘You need to get out here,’" said Lynnette Haynes, of Catonsville, a first grade teacher in Baltimore County who joined the protest.

Sisters Miheret and Sophia Adams arrived with their mother and signs bearing the names of black men who died at the hands of police officers. Their mother, Brooke Johnson, said it’s no longer enough not to be racist; this moment requires anti-racism.

“Our young people, our children, we are not prey,” added Norita Phillips, who joined in with her teenage son.

In one particularly Baltimore moment, arabber James Chase wore a top hat and drove a horse and shiny black coffin though the crowd to demonstrate a last ride for Floyd.

Earlier, youth led a march through downtown and invoked the names of the latest black men and women to die: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. They marched past Camden Yards with fists in the air and signs proclaiming “I can’t breathe."

With the coronavirus outbreak still a concern, the University of Maryland Medical System donated thousands of surgical masks to city health officials to be handed out to demonstrators outside the Convention Center.

Black mothers in the U.S. know to tell their children to fear and obey the police, but that hasn’t been enough to keep them safe, said Deashia Gibbs, 22, of Park Heights and Pikesville.

“I’m tired of seeing these mothers crying on the TV,” Gibbs said. “When they’re complying, but they’re still dying, where do we go from here? What do we teach them now? We can’t not exist. We can’t change the color of their skin."

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To Gibbs, the sight of fellow marchers overtaking the highway took her breath away.

“To see all of these people from all different races and walks of life, to be here and shut down a highway for a cause like this, it’s beautiful," she said.

Baltimore City officers of all races took a knee in solidarity with black lives matter in front of Baltimore City Hall.

Despite tense moments, the crowds mostly kept the peace during the day. By night, some officers appeared in riot gear and carried shields outside City Hall. Near Baltimore and Commerce streets, someone shot fireworks at a line of police officers. Protesters chased down a man who appeared responsible. Organizers had repeatedly called for peace throughout the day.

City Councilman Eric Costello posted to Twitter that protesters delivered the man to police and he was arrested.

Shortly before midnight, activist Kwame Rose took up a microphone and urged everyone left to go home. The crowd had dwindled through the night, but a standoff between police and those left remained tense. Police could be seen advancing with shields raised, driving back the crowd.

“If you are a minor, if you do not want to go to jail, go home,” Rose said over the loudspeakers. “We proved our points. We did what we came here to do tonight. Do not turn this into something it does not have to be.”

By 1:30 a.m., the streets of Baltimore were quiet.

Elsewhere across the U.S., violent clashes have been recorded by cellphone videos. Overnight Sunday, fires burned in the streets of D.C. In Chicago, authorities have deployed the National Guard.

In an evening address from the White House, President Donald Trump urged the nation’s governors to call in the National Guard to restore law and order in their communities.

The Maryland National Guard helped move officers and equipment downtown, according to a tweet from the Baltimore Police Department. The Guard had not been deployed to monitor or control protests as of Monday evening, according to the governor’s office.

Baltimore leaders, however, lauded “peaceful protesters."

“I am proud of Baltimore’s young people for continuing to be a positive national example of Democracy in action,” Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said in a statement.

Young noted that city officials were working with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration, which has supplied additional law enforcement resources. However, “Contrary to remarks earlier tonight from President Trump, our City does not expect to see an influx of active duty military personnel.”

Youth-led group march through Baltimore to protest George Floyd's death in Minnesota.

The demonstration came one day before the primary election and the city’s board of elections closed its drop-off box and offices, citing “safety concerns" in a post online.

Officials also stopped the light rail between North Avenue and Camden Yards.

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Baltimore Police conducted sweeps of downtown to clear debris, such as bricks and bottles, that could be thrown at officers during the protests.

Friday and Sunday evening protests were largely peaceful. While some city storefronts were damaged, a fire was set in a bank and there were tense moments between protesters and police Saturday, the city did not suffer violence as seen elsewhere. By the end of Saturday night’s protests, 14 people had been arrested in Baltimore compared with more than 200 in Philadelphia, where stores were looted and buildings set ablaze.

The president of the Baltimore police union, however, called the incidents riots.

“Even when it seems that many are against us, you continue to put your lives on the line for the citizens of Baltimore,” Mike Mancuso, president of the city police union, wrote to officers in a letter posted online. “Continue to defend and protect one another even when the sheepish leaders that surround us ‘Monday morning quarterback’ our decisions to forcibly stop assaults on us.”

Over the weekend, two 7-11 stores downtown were looted, according to police. A Mom & Pop dry cleaners and the H&M at the Gallery both had windows knocked out. Starbucks and Subway had been spared, while vandals managed to start a fire inside the First National Bank at Lombard and Commerce streets.

In Baltimore as of Monday, the toll was small compared with that wrought by the 2015 unrest in the wake of Gray. Then, Caplan Brothers Glass had responded to 150 damaged storefronts, said owner Mayer Gerstein. In contrast, over the weekend he sent five crews to around 10 or 15 shops with broken windows.

“This was nowhere near that, thankfully,” he said.

Though friends congratulate Gerstein on the business, it’s not something he celebrates. It’s disheartening for business owners, who can wind up spending $10,000 for a single sheet of glass, or to have a door unit replaced.

Craig Martin used steel wool and Goo Gone to scrub the white letters from the brick storefront of his shop, the Quintessential Gentleman. Over the weekend someone had spray-painted “Let’s go shopping” along with an anarchy sign. In anticipation of more protests scheduled for Monday evening, Martin was debating whether to put up plywood boards in the windows, an expensive investment for a business that’s been taking in just 5% of its usual revenue since the pandemic began.

“We’re just trying to figure out how we live another day,” Martin said.

Protest organizers have been seen to condemn violence, shouting at those who throw glass bottles and otherwise disrupt the peaceful demonstrations. Baltimore Pastor Westley West led a small march Monday morning near the Inner Harbor, chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot!”

They echoed the names of the black men and women killed by police and knelt across from Camden Yards. West challenged a police officer to join them and repeat one of the names; the officer did so.

“Thank you. I appreciate that," West said. “We aren’t out here to destroy our city. We just want our voices to be heard.”

The officer and protester clasped hands.

Westley West demands that Officer Ariel Font reads one name from the sign listing black victims as the condition for protesters to get off the road.

Baltimore Sun reporters Jessica Anderson, Talia Richman, Christina Tkacik and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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