Baltimore activists endured sweltering heat Saturday as they continued to protest police brutality against Black Americans and to call for an end to systemic racism.
Despite temperatures in the mid-90 degrees, more than 50 people marched from North Charles Street in the Charles North neighborhood to the Billie Holiday statue at West Lafayette and Pennsylvania avenues in the Upton neighborhood. The event, organized by the People’s Power Assembly, was dedicated to honoring Black women affected by police violence.
The march is the latest local protest organized to draw attention to systemic racism within law enforcement, healthcare, education and other sectors. Protests erupted nationwide following the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died after a white officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, and have continued peaceably in Baltimore for weeks.
Representatives of the People’s Power Assembly, which has organized some of the city’s largest protests in recent weeks, have said they envision a city without police and instead community-led peace forces.
“No more bad apples! Chop down the whole tree,” the crowd chanted Saturday.
The march included a caravan of drivers, bikers and walkers. Some taped “Black Lives Matter” logos on the back of bike helmets and backpacks. Others carried percussion instruments or used car horns to echo the rhythm of chants from the crowd. Medical volunteers passed out bottles of water.
Organizer Sharon Black referred to the crowd as “precious soldiers in the fight,” as they have continued to march week after week, she said.
Ashley Leake, 30, wore to the protest a medical mask on which she had written “BLM” in black marker. The Baltimore nurse lamented that media coverage of the protests has waned but said progress was still visible.
“I was so surprised at my first protest to see so many white people,” said Leake, who is biracial. “It’s great to see we have allies. We have the ability to unite.”
Leake said she has attended three protests against police brutality, which has taken a toll on her relationship with some white family members. When Leake carried a poster to one protest identifying herself as a Black nurse, one family member called it a betrayal, she said.
“You have to take a lot of shots doing the right thing,” Leake said.
As the crowd passed through neighborhoods and by highways, bystanders leaned out of windows to shout in support or rolled down car windows to lift a fist signaling solidarity. One protester carried a crude cardboard sign with a response: “Don’t clap 4 us Join us.”
Jim Anderson, 62, said he has attended two other protests by the same organization and believes the energy will grow. He carried a cowbell and a handmade poster declaring the word “patriot.”
Anderson was inspired to think of protesters as patriots after reading a biography of Frederick Douglass, the famed Maryland abolitionist and orator.
Some critics of the Black Lives Matter movement have called demonstrators unpatriotic, a term Anderson said he adamantly rejects.
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“They are wrapping themselves in patriotism, but in fact we’re the true patriots,” he said of the critics.
Demonstrators crowded into shaded patches of sidewalk near the Billie Holiday statue and listened to several speakers, some of whom called for defunding police or for better mental health services for Black people.
In a fiery speech, 79-year-old Rev. Annie Chambers told the crowd that the protests were not just about police brutality, but also justice, she said.
“This is a spiritual revolution,” Chambers said, adding that she’s been pushing for racial equity since she was 14 years old.
Saturday’s march also included a tribute to the late Rep. John Lewis, the congressman and stalwart of the Civil Rights Movement. Lewis died Friday at the age of 80.
“We’re still marching ... same as in 1965,” one speaker remarked after praising Lewis’ legacy.
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.