After the Baltimore City Council voted to confirm Kevin Davis as commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department on Monday night, protesters briefly disrupted the proceedings before converging with other protesters in a waiting area outside the council chambers, chanting, "Back up, back up, we want freedom, freedom! All these racist [expletive] cops, we don't need 'em, need 'em."
Police quickly issued warnings that there would be arrests, and the protesters — about 75 of them — moved outside, into the streets.
They moved south on Commerce Street, then west on Lombard, with groups of police following them and issuing warnings for them to get onto the sidewalk. Traffic was stopped, then began to creep slowly behind the protesters as they moved down Lombard and then south on Charles Street. At Pratt Street, they turned east before reaching McKeldin plaza near the Inner Harbor and gathering there.
After more chanting, leaders gathered the protesters in a circle and said police had given a final warning that they were prepared to begin arresting anyone who went back into the streets. Adam Jackson, CEO of the group Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, advised the protesters to avoid being arrested, and to "focus on things we can do tomorrow to hold Kevin Davis accountable."
"Kevin Davis does not at all have any of our interests at heart," Makayla Gilliam-Price, a 17-year-old founder of the group City Bloc, told the crowd during an impassioned speech. "I am extremely fed up, and this will not be the end."
The protest followed another last week, in which 16 protesters were arrested after staging a sit-in inside of City Hall.
The protesters, from a coalition of activist organizations, have issued a list of demands to Davis, calling on him to take a less forceful approach to protests in the city. On Monday, Jackson and Gilliam-Price said they had met with Davis on Sunday about their demands and that he had been receptive. But they said a statement Davis issued on Monday, which did not mention their demands, had left them feeling disrespected.
In his statement, Davis had said police and protesters "ultimately want the same thing: a safe and peaceful environment where citizens can exercise their Constitutional rights. We've taken steps to ensure a better flow of communication, and I look forward to a constructive and productive relationship moving forward."
Protesters were further angered on Monday when Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young announced that the balcony above the council chamber — where the sit-in was staged — would be closed for the Monday evening hearing because of "safety concerns" related to seats on the balcony being in disrepair and possibly dangerous. Jackson called the closure a "sneaky way of trying to curtail the voice of young people."
After the march to McKeldin, the group walked back to City Hall on the sidewalks, waiting for traffic lights to change at crosswalks. They milled around City Hall for a bit, and then dispersed.
Afterward, Jackson said the police tactics used — "patrolling and following students, threatening to lock people up" — are exactly what the students are asking Davis to change, and only gave them more reason to be concerned about Davis leading the department.
The police response, Jackson said, "is the reason why students demonstrate like they did."
T.J. Smith, the police department's chief spokesman, said afterward that the protest was peaceful, and that no arrests were made.
"They listened when they were told that they couldn't do certain things," Smith said. "Yes, at a point in time they were in the roadway, but they were given warnings by commanders, they listened, went to the sidewalk and then to McKeldin square."
"That's all we asked for. We did not have to make any arrests, and we look forward to continuing a dialogue as we all have mutual interest and mutual goals here."
As for the protesters' demands and Davis' response to them, Smith said "there are a number of things we absolutely agree on and we should continue that conversation." What the police department does not want is to engage in a "public war of words" with protesters, he said.
Mecca Verdell, 18, who was one of the 16 people arrested at the City Hall sit-in last week and was back out for Monday's protest, said police need to start listening to the youth who live in the city.
"It's clear the kids know what they want," she said. "These kids are intelligent. They know what they want from the system."
Kevin Wellons, 19, said he "wanted to come out and make sure that we stay active and keep pushing" police and city officials for change, because "politicians will say whatever and let things die, and let us die."
Afiya Ervin, a 16-year-old junior at Baltimore City College High School, said she has been scared all year to join protests in the city, in part out of fear of the police.
"Anyway I try to speak out against injustice, I feel I'll get shot in the street or I'll have a record and won't be able to get a job," she said.
That the youth-led protest Monday was one of her first made it that much more empowering, she said.
"It feels good because I just know that I did my part," she said.