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Dozens attend Baltimore forum on 'police terror'

Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon, shown during a protest against police violence in January, was among those who spoke at a forum Saturday in the basement of a Mount Vernon church.
Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon, shown during a protest against police violence in January, was among those who spoke at a forum Saturday in the basement of a Mount Vernon church. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Several dozen people gathered in the basement of a Mount Vernon church on Saturday afternoon to vent frustrations with police brutality in Baltimore and beyond.

They recalled the lives of young men who died after run-ins with police: Freddie Gray, Tyrone West, Anthony Anderson, Michael Brown, Eric Garner. And they pledged to continue to publicize the need to reform police and society to put an end to police brutality.

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"The answers are not going to come from City Hall," the Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon told the crowd at New Unity Church. "The answers are not going to come from the State House. The answers are not going to come from the White House. The solution starts with you. The solution starts with me."

The event at New Unity was billed as a "Baltimore Tribunal and Peoples Assembly" to stop "police terror." It drew a mix of white and black Baltimore residents, as well as activists from New York City, Detroit, Los Angeles and North Carolina, many of them affiliated with the Peoples Power Assembly, which sponsored the program.

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Several speakers applauded Baltimore residents who took part in the "uprising" – they said it was not a riot – following the April death of Freddie Gray, who was injured in police custody. If not for the uprising, they said, people would not know about Baltimore's ongoing problem with police brutality.

"It wasn't until the uprising took place that City Hall took notice," Witherspoon said.

After weeks of largely peaceful protests, riots broke out the day of Gray's funeral, with arsons, looting and clashes with police. A state of emergency was declared, a nightly curfew was instituted and state troopers, county police and the National Guard were brought in to quell the violence.

Larry Holmes, an activist from New York, praised those who decided to "rise up" in Baltimore. "Broken windows are better than broken necks," he said.

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He urged activists not to become complacent over the summer. "You've got to stay active ... This is the summer to strengthen this black lives matter movement," he said.

Speakers at the New Unity event called for a series of changes aimed at ending police violence and empowering young people in poor communities: educating residents about their rights when interacting with police, community oversight of police, jobs programs with a living wage, more money for education and a robust program for rehabilitating vacant houses.

Speakers also included Renee Washington, whose fiance Joseph Wilbon was killed in police custody in 2000, and Tawanda Jones, whose brother Tyrone West died after an incident involving police in 2013.

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