The state’s top public defender’s office joined demonstrators Monday marching the streets of downtown Baltimore, as cries condemning police brutality and racism rang out across the region for the 11th straight day after the death of George Floyd.
Three separate protests in the city drew a couple of hundred people throughout the day as many marched along Charles Street and others gathered outside the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse for a protest organized by the Maryland Office of the Public Defender. Later Monday night, a crowd gathered outside City Hall, rallied by Ujima People‘s Progress/People’s Power Assembly, crying to defund the Baltimore Police Department.
Protests erupted across the country and world after Floyd, a black man, died May 25 in police custody in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Though many of the protests turned violent, those in Baltimore have remained largely peaceful.
Public defenders from across Maryland crowded the sidewalk outside the courthouse, chanting “Black Lives Matter.”
Don Zaremba, who works in the office, told The Sun: “[We’re here] to show solidarity with our clients who have been the victims of unjust policing practices.”
Speakers from the public defender’s office read the names of police brutality victims and decried the rate of incarceration of black people in Maryland.
The state’s prison population in 2018 was 70% black, and more than double the national average of 31%, according to a report from the Justice Policy Institute. A spreadsheet distributed by the Black Public Defender Association showed more than 45 other protests were planned across the country Monday to march for racial justice.
Protesters took a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the same amount of time Floyd was pinned to the ground under the officer’s knee. Many wore shirts with a fist and a message: “Sometimes there is justice, sometimes there is just us.”
The group then began to march toward the city jail, eliciting a steady stream of car horns and cheers, even from Maryland Transit Administration buses as a Baltimore Police helicopter rumbled from above.
Outside central booking, protesters chanted “OPD loves you” as those inside the jail cells knocked on windows and cheered as they passed.
“I wouldn’t be in this job if I didn’t care about justice,” said Anne B. Stewart-Hill, an assistant public defender.
Among her past clients: Freddie Gray, whose 2015 death in police custody touched off a previous wave of protests. Stewart-Hill, who participated in protests then, said, in contrast to that era, the current movement seems to include a broader base of support among white people.
“And they’re not protesting once — they’re protesting every day," she said.
Another group of about 30 people met in the 2000 block of N. Charles St. and marched through the Old Goucher neighborhood. The protesters paused on the corner of St. Paul and 33rd St. to take a knee, before joining the public defenders’ protest.
The small group swelled to about 50 as they marched, chanting “take the city back” and “no justice, no peace.” Many residents cheered the young people on from porches and sidewalks.
One woman appeared on some front steps beating a pot with a wooden spoon, adding to the protest’s percussion. Others cried out from open windows — in several instances leading the protesters in chants.
About 200 people listened as a coalition of groups called for defunding and abolishing police outside City Hall around 5 p.m.
Nnamdi Lumuumba, of Ujima People‘s Progress, said Baltimore’s Democrats have failed working class residents.
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“We need the resources going to the Baltimore Police Department, year after year after year and failure after failure, to serve our communities’ desperate needs," he said.
Instead of a police department, the goal would be to set up new community public safety committees, “where the community solves its problems, the community solve the issues," said Andre Powell of the People’s Power Assembly.
On Sunday, a majority of the Minneapolis City Council announced that they were prepared to “begin the process of dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department," according to a Minneapolis Star-Tribune report. They have not yet released specifics about what that means, the paper said.
Thomas Wingate stood in the crowd with a “defund the police” sign. He said that talk about reforming the department had gone on for too long and without real change.
“It’s clear it’s not working, and more drastic measures are necessary,” he said.
Still, the 32-year-old said he’s not sure what an alternative would look like.
“I think getting rid of police overnight would it be a bad idea," Wingate said. "I think we should move funds first and see how it works.”