Dozens of demonstrators gathered in Baltimore’s Little Italy neighborhood Thursday to send a message: President Donald Trump is not welcome here.
When the president’s motorcade sped down South President Street at about 6:40 p.m. dozens of people greeted the 45th president with a tirade of swear words and profane hand gestures.
The brief burst of excitement capped nearly three hours of demonstrations at the Christopher Columbus Piazza.
“I don’t think he’s fit to be president,” said Kevin Zembower, a former federal employee from the Radnor-Winston neighborhood. For his first-ever protest — he wasn’t allowed when he worked for the government — Zembower wore a shirt reading, “Baltimore: Actually I like it.”
Zembower was among dozens who were drawn to protest Trump’s planned evening appearance at a retreat for Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The GOP retreat is being held through Saturday at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel in Harbor East, a few blocks from where protesters gathered.
After Trump’s arrival, demonstrators quickly began to dissipate.
The protesters carried signs promoting causes as varied as combating racism and abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A few wore rat masks and carried posters with rats on them — a nod to Trump’s criticism earlier this summer that Baltimore is a rodent-infested city.
Retreat organizers said they picked Baltimore as the location for the retreat before Trump’s multiday tirade in July against the city and Democratic U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.
The Republican members of Congress rode coach buses to the hotel well before the demonstrations began up the street.
Meanwhile, a handful of Trump supporters, some wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, tried to counter the anti-Trump message.
“We want to show him that we care,” said Julie Bird of Baltimore.
“I’m down here for a show of support for the president of the United States,” said Dave Pilley Sr., who said he was raised in Baltimore but moved to Hampstead in Carroll County after he saw the city decline.
At one point, a pair of men carrying a royal blue Trump banner down the President Street sidewalk were jeered by the crowd. Later, Trump supporters and detractors engaged in a tense argument on a street corner.
A Baltimore police spokesman said that no protesters were arrested as of about 7:45 p.m.
Anti-Trump protesters outnumbered the president’s supporters. People carried signs with pictures of rats declaring that Trump is one. A few chanted “Lock him up!” At other times, rally leaders led chants of: “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!” and “Trump is the real rat!”
Wayne Cassell dressed in a hooded black cloak, covered his face with black cloth and carried a scythe to complete a grim reaper costume. The Hampstead resident said he has adopted the persona from time to time since the presidency of Republican George W. Bush in the early 2000. His main concern is the easy availability of guns, and he believes Trump and Republicans are too closely tied to the National Rifle Association.
“In my opinion, we wouldn’t have as many murders in our country if not for the NRA,” Cassell said.
Across the street in a parking lot, Claude Taylor wrangled a 14-foot inflatable rat designed to resemble Trump. Taylor has been taking the rat around the country for more than a year — long before the president blasted Baltimore this summer.
“We use it to illustrate what a rat Trump is,” said Taylor, who runs a political action committee called the Mad Dog PAC. It was a no-brainer to bring the inflatable rat to Baltimore, especially after Trump’s comments about the city, Taylor said.
“Trump is going to be right there,” he said, pointing toward Harbor East. “The things he said about Baltimore are despicable and divisive."
Ashburton resident Devin Lewis happened upon the inflatable rat and eagerly had his picture taken with it.
“I thought that was pretty cool. I’m not thrilled about [Trump] being in the area. Hopefully, he’s in and out,” Lewis said.
Lewis said Trump has the wrong idea about Baltimore. “If he actually came and interacted with people ... he would see a different side of the city.”
Nearby, Dundalk resident Scott Collier hoped to catch attention for a display of crosses he set up on a grassy patch to symbolize overdose deaths. Other political leaders have signed the crosses in a show of support, and Collier thought that if he got lucky, maybe Trump would, too.
“You never know what’s going to happen unless you try,” he said.
Thursday’s anti-Trump demonstration was the first of several events planned over the next three days to coincide with the Republican retreat. In subsequent days, events will include an LGBTQ dance party and an apocalypse-themed demonstration against climate change. They’ve all been coordinated by a coalition of individuals and activists groups calling themselves the “Baltimore Welcoming Committee.”
But Bob Berger, 71, of Baltimore said that he sees Trump’s visit as “a positive thing for Baltimore” and that he came to the Marriott to support “patriotism.” The 71-year-old said that he’s a retired Baltimore police officer and that Trump was correct to call Baltimore a “rat- and rodent-infested mess.”
“He wasn’t telling a lie,” he added.
Mary Wilson Gallegos, 60, of New Mexico said that she was in the area to visit her daughter and that, when she saw Trump was coming to Baltimore, sprang at the opportunity to see the president up close. She said she’d previously tried to see him in Las Vegas, but could only see him from far away in a large crowd.
As protesters began to line up on the opposite sidewalk, holding signs that say “GOP $EES NO EVIL” and “White House Garbage Removal Project,” Gallegos said, “He’s our president and you have to respect him.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Phil Davis contributed to this article.