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Baltimore protest over police shootings shuts down traffic

and Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Baltimore protesters shut down traffic to decry police shootings

Hundreds of protesters chanting and carrying placards decrying police shootings marched from the Inner Harbor to Baltimore police headquarters and back Friday night, briefly shutting down traffic coming into the city from Interstate 83.

"This is our civil rights movement," said one protester, Diego Marin, 25.

The Peoples Power Assembly organized the march as part of nationwide protests over the shooting deaths this week of two black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota. Both incidents were captured on videos that went viral and spurred national outrage yet again over police-involved shootings.

One of those protests erupted in violence in Dallas Thursday night when five police officers there were slain and seven others wounded by a gunman who was eventually killed.

While the protest remained peaceful on Friday night, police were working to keep marchers from approaching Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles were playing the Los Angeles Angels.

"Nobody goes west on Pratt," a police official said over the scanner. "I don't want them going anywhere near the stadium."

The rioting and looting that broke out after protests over Freddie Gray's death last year initially started with violence outside of Camden Yards that briefly led the stadium to lock fans inside.

One of the organizers of the march, the Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon, a local activist, told protesters that he wanted to see more of them outside of the courthouse on Monday when Baltimore Police Lt. Brian Rice starts his third day of trial for charges related to Gray's arrest and death.

"There are not enough people outside of those trials involving brother Freddie Gray," Witherspoon said. "Stand out there and protest and raise hell."

The march on Friday started at McKeldin Square at around 7 p.m., headed east on Pratt Street, turned north on President Street and stopped outside of the Baltimore Police Department's headquarters on Fayette Street. Traffic from I-83 was briefly shut down and some cars could be seen driving in reverse along the highway. Two police helicopters circled overhead and officers were positioned on rooftops along the route.

Some of the chants included: "Hands up, don't shoot," which started after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., two years ago; "I can't breathe," which started after Eric Garner died in a struggle with New York City police in 2014; and, "All night all day we're going to fight for Freddie Gray."

One protester held a sign that read "Justice 4 Sterling & Castile," referring to the two black men who died after fatal police shootings this week. Alton Sterling was shot in Baton Rouge on Tuesday and Philando Castile was shot in Minneapolis on Wednesday.

Sidney Young, a 19-year-old University of Baltimore student from East Baltimore, said the video of Sterling's shooting was "disturbing."

"The fact that we're still dealing with these incidents shows that there's really been no change," Young said. "I'd like to call the cops if something goes wrong. I don't want to fear their presence."

Stephanie Slowly, 34, of Laurel came to the protest immediately after work.

"I'm tired of seeing violence against anybody but especially against black men and black people," she said.

The shooting deaths of Sterling and Castile were the first to make her fear for her own safety and for her family.

"I'm afraid this is our new norm," she said. "It's beautiful to see everyone that's out here."

Lt. Col. Melvin Russell, the chief of the police department's Community Collaboration Division, accompanied marchers and said he was confident it would remain peaceful.

"I don't see why not," Russell said.

Shortly after 9 p.m. protesters appeared to be staging a sit-in at the intersection of Pratt and Light streets, blocking traffic.

Baltimore police said four people were arrested for blocking streets and refusing to move.

"Outside of that, the protesters have been peaceful and the protest organizers have been helpful," police spokesman Jeremy Silbert said in a statement.

Around 9:30 p.m. Witherspoon called for protesters to leave "in pairs" for their safety. The protest ended shortly after.

Baltimore Sun staff writer Doug Donovan contributed to this report.

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