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Crime

Black community leaders criticize Baltimore Police after officer kills ‘No Shoot Zone’ activist

Five days after local anti-violence activist Tyree Moorehead was killed by Baltimore police, community leaders said the shooting threatens to drive another wedge between Black residents and city officers, reversing recent efforts to improve their relationship.

“How can we continue to build trust if we continue getting shot down in the streets?” said Joshua McLean of West Baltimore-based Faith Empowered Ministries. “The police are supposed to be protecting us.”

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Moorehead, a local rapper who was well known in Baltimore for spray-painting “No Shoot Zones” at shooting and homicide scenes, died Sunday after officer Zachary Rutherford fired 14 shots at close range. The officer was responding to reports of a woman being attacked; he arrived to find Moorehead standing over the woman brandishing a large kitchen knife.

“We think it is clear that this officer saved this woman’s life,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said after releasing body-camera footage of the shooting earlier this week. Harrison has overseen the department’s ongoing reform efforts under a federal consent decree meant to address past unconstitutional policing practices.

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Since the recent police shooting — the second this year — many community members have questioned why the officer fired so many shots.

Michael Eugene Johnson, who organized a press conference Friday at the Arch Social Club building on Pennsylvania Avenue, said he recognizes that Moorehead’s actions contributed to the outcome.

Michael Eugene Johnson speaks at a news conference Friday morning.  A coalition of African American men held the news conference at Arch Social Club to discuss the recent death of Tyree Moorehead, who was killed by a city police officer. The group is asking for a meeting with the Baltimore Police Department, as well as a federal investigation into the case.

“The community is shocked,” he said.

He noted how the officer arrived on scene with his gun already drawn, then opened fire almost immediately.

For members of the Black community who witnessed the shooting or watched the video, the images are traumatic — the latest depiction of police violence against people of color, Johnson said.

Bodycam footage shows Rutherford shooting Moorehead from a few feet away as he rolled off the woman, allowing her to move away. Rutherford continued to shoot, including toward Moorehead’s back. After finishing one clip, the officer reloaded his gun and repeatedly ordered a bleeding Moorehead to drop the knife, but didn’t fire more shots.

“I think what we have here is a disconnect between the Baltimore Police Department’s training and policies,” said Earl El-Amin of the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore.

He said this calls for increased scrutiny of how the department trains officers to interact with people in a mental health crisis.

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Activists also said they want a federal investigation of the incident, in addition to a thorough internal review from the Baltimore Police Department.

Family and friends of Moorehead have described his death against a backdrop of trauma and escalating mental health challenges. They said Moorehead displayed volatile behavior in recent months, even as he remained dedicated to his anti-violence work.

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Activists questioned whether the outcome would have been different if Moorehead were white.

“For some reason, white men are able to come out alive, in handcuffs,” said longtime Baltimore activist Bill Goodin. “Now I just don’t understand why we’ve got case after case after case with Black people being killed.”

Rev. Westley West, a vocal critic of the Baltimore Police Department who was acquitted of charges stemming from protests over the Freddie Gray case in 2016, said the Sunday shooting is the latest example of a broken system.

“I’m here because I’m outraged,” West said. “This officer changed his clip. … He was ready for more, as if there was an army of Black men chasing him down with firearms.”

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Moments after the press conference concluded, West was detained in handcuffs while crossing West North Avenue. He was leaving the Arch Social Club building, a historic venue at the heart of Baltimore’s once-thriving Black cultural district.

West was released within minutes, after officers discovered a warrant had been recalled, he said.

“This was a clear injustice, what just happened here,” he yelled, moments after being unhandcuffed. “People need to see the outrage.”


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