Five years after Freddie Gray, Kwame Rose among those who helped quell protest violence in Baltimore

The entire day of protest in Baltimore had been peaceful. As other cities burned every night, thousands in a city everyone expected to blow up again were rallying against police brutality and racism in expressions that were often deeply painful but measured, sometimes even joyous.

Organizers wanted to keep it that way.


As night fell Monday, the mood outside City Hall began to teeter. When the first bottles started to fly toward police from the back, Kwame Rose darted through the sea of people.

“Who’s throwing s---?! Who is it?” bellowed Rose, followed closely by former NFL player and art educator Aaron Maybin.


Community leaders were urging calm — for the sake of black people they said could be hurt by police if things went south; for the reputation of a city that erupted five years earlier but had so far kept its cool this time around despite continued injustice and failed promises of change.

Rose was 20 years old when he went viral in 2015 for confronting and shouting down Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera at Pennsylvania and North avenues. He would emerge as one of the city’s most prominent activist voices.

There was a downside: The viral fame promptly led to him being fired from his job, which caused him to be evicted from his home. He has said he was targeted by police, who pulled him over and impounded his car, and later zeroed in on him as an instigator during demonstrations outside the courthouse after the trial of one of the officers charged in connection with Gray’s death.

“Getting arrested and being targeted by law enforcement, I’ve learned a lot through it,” Rose told PBS in 2018. “I’ve learned how to navigate through the obstacles rather than be the guy known for screaming at people.”

Rose was never accused of violence or property damage in 2015. But amid nationwide riots sparked by the death of George Floyd after a police officer in Minnesota knelt on his neck for several minutes, Rose placed himself among a group of peacemakers wanting to ensure Baltimore did not burn again.

The efforts had been ongoing throughout the weekend, some coordinated, some not.

Young leaders like Malik Williams and Agyeiwaa “Jay” Quashie repeatedly urged passionate but peaceful protest against police, exhorting people not to cause a problem that would bring them harm. On Sunday, the activist known as PFK Boom and others chased away a man they said began knocking over trash cans during a march.

At another point, a man could be heard saying, “We gonna have some fun tonight” and started rattling the barricades. He was denounced and sent away.


There was limited vandalism Saturday and no notable problems Sunday.

Monday was the third and largest day of protests in Baltimore, drawing the city’s largest protest crowds in years — and potential cover for those wanting to spark clashes as seen elsewhere.

A group of 40 leaders including Munir Bahar, Catalina Byrd, Stokey Cannady, Akil Patterson and City Council President Brandon Scott had been coordinating via text message.

Ike Carter, a West Baltimore resident, said the youth organizers had requested their support.

“They asked us to keep the peace,” Carter said. “If you can’t listen to the youth, who are you here for?”

When the protest crowd decided to leave City Hall around 10:30 p.m., they encountered police with riot gear at East Baltimore and South streets. But when fireworks were shot in the direction of police, community members — not officers — swiftly went after those they believed responsible.


One white man was shoved into the side of a bank building, like someone being checked against the boards in hockey, and swarmed by several people. From that scrum, photographer J.M. Giordano captured Rose whisking the man to City Hall and throwing him behind the police barricade to be arrested.

Rose disappeared after the interaction, but re-emerged some time later. In an interview with The Sun, he said he became overcome with emotion and needed a break. Rose said he and an East Baltimore activist known as “Uncle T” jumped into the fray and protected the man. Rose said he feared what might have happened in the heat of the moment.

Rose took heat from some on social media for taking the man to police. Some were not impressed by his call for non-violent protest, saying they were there to rise up against police and show their anger. Chanting and taking selfies is useless, they said.

Reflecting the array of feelings in the crowd, Carter said he heard people muttering that being peaceful and chanting “No justice, no peace” wasn’t strong enough.


Rose was far from alone, however. A second man also was chased after throwing fireworks, and activists got between the police line making clear no other such acts would be tolerated. "Throw another cherry bomb in this bitch and get knocked the f--- out!” one man yelled.

“Today is not the day you gonna f--- the city up,” another said as people in his group shoved a man holding a sign away from police.

One of the protesters trying to keep things in check, Terry Simms, said later that he too believed “out of towners” were trying to “start a war.”

“They call us the most disrespectful city, but we are the ones that actually didn’t act up the way everyone else expected us to,” Simms said late in the night as a smattering of young people faced off with state troopers. “Baltimore — we have moved on."

Activist Kwame Rose tells protesters to go home after Baltimore Police gave their final warning. Baltimore protesters marched late into Monday night after another day of peaceful protests in the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody.

Breaking News Alerts

As it happens

Be informed of breaking news as it happens and notified about other don't-miss content with our free news alerts.

Since the spring of 2015, Rose became part of the system — then-state Sen. Catherine Pugh, who walked the streets at the time urging calm, took him under her wing and hired him at City Hall, including a job as a liaison to the program Bmore Beautiful. Rose has said in subsequent interviews that he has been learning to play chess instead of checkers and make sustainable change.

When Pugh pleaded guilty and was sentenced for an array of federal crimes, Rose was among those present. He consoled her on the courtroom floor.

More recently, Rose has been working through a partnership with Washington, D.C.-based World Central Kitchen to deliver meals to vulnerable communities.

Around 11:45 p.m. Monday, after gathering himself and reconnecting with friends, Rose commandeered a bullhorn and, with the support of others keeping the peace, urged everyone go home. The police had given a third warning, he said, which meant, “if you’ve never been to a f------ protest before, they can do whatever they want.”

His message wasn’t for the benefit of police, he said. Rose spoke about how being arrested ruined his life, for a time at least.

“I’ve been where you’ve been at, five years ago," Rose said. “Do not give them what they’re looking for — do not give them another excuse. The goal is for everyone to get home safely."


Sun reporter McKenna Oxenden contributed to this report.