Protesters march against police brutality on anniversary of Ferguson unrest

Protesters marched against police brutality on the anniversary of the Ferguson unrest.

A racially diverse crowd gathered Saturday afternoon at Pennsylvania and North avenues, giving speeches against police brutality with the boarded-up CVS that burned in the April rioting after Freddie Gray's death as a backdrop.

The protesters, organized by the Peoples Power Assembly group, chose the intersection that became the epicenter of Baltimore's April riots for the rally commemorating the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of 18-year-old-Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo.

The corner buzzed Saturday as residents danced to music blasted from speakers.

Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, appointed last month after Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired Anthony W. Batts, attended the rally and spoke with people there.

"My presence hopefully makes a statement," he said, adding that he, too, wanted to acknowledge the anniversary of Brown's death, which stirred rioting in Ferguson.

"A lot of people have pain, not just with the Baltimore Police Department but with policing in America," Davis said. "We're in the moment of a sea change in policing in this country, and the whole world is looking at the Baltimore Police Department to see if we're going to get it right. So I want to just acknowledge the pain, acknowledge the frustration."

A few residents who were not participating in the rally confronted him. Some talked about times they had been roughed up by police, while others encouraged him to respect the community.

"I don't necessarily have an answer today that I'm providing people beyond this: I know that the community won't trust the Police Department until the community knows the Police Department respects them," Davis said. "That's why I'm here."

Saturday's rally was part of a series of demonstrations planned in cities nationwide on the weekend of the anniversary of Brown's death. The shooting sparked protests that started a national conversation about the way black people are treated by police, and Baltimore became part of the story when Gray's death after a spinal injury in police custody set off peaceful protests and eventually riots.

Colleen Davidson, one of the rally's organizers, said they wanted to continue the momentum of the movement against police brutality that has grown since the unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore.

"It's been dying down a bit, so we want to keep it going," said Davidson, 23. "We want to show that there are still people that care and who are fighting back, to let the community and police know that we're not going to stop, we're not going to slow down."

After the rally and the speeches, about 70 protesters marched from North Avenue through West Baltimore and down Pennsylvania Avenue and into downtown, disrupting traffic as they marched in the street.

Along the way, the protesters passed a poster sitting in the doorway of a vacant house that referred to Gray and said: "End police terror! Disarm the police."

At one point, police said, the marchers temporarily blocked the intersection at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Howard Street and the nearby light rail line, before continuing back to North Avenue and dispersing near its intersection with Charles Street.

"We need change in the city," said Christopher Anderson, 44, who held part of a large yellow sign that read "Justice 4 Freddie Carlos Gray." "We need to make sure the police don't slay people left and right without accountability."

Bobby Wright, 46, who was walking in the Penn North area when he came upon the protest, said he was encouraged by it.

"It shouldn't just be when it happens to your own people," he said of the protests. "It transcends racial lines. It doesn't have to matter who it happened to."

cwells@baltsun.com

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