When about 50 protesters reached Baltimore police union headquarters yesterday and confronted a line of uniformed officers, there were planned speeches and by-now familiar chants.
But many of the marchers, who had walked to the Fraternal Order of Police building in Hampden from the site of Freddie Gray’s fatal arrest last month in West Baltimore, also came right up to the silent officers and unloaded a verbal barrage.
“Catch their eyes, folks! Murderers! You dogs, you kill innocent men! You dogs kill men when they put up their hands! Stop laughing in our faces when we protest,” members of this group of men, women and a couple of children said.
One of them, Lawrence Brown, made a direct appeal to Lt. Hans Nicolas, the white-shirted officer at the front of the phalanx of uniforms.
“We’re looking for the good cops to stand up and say, this stuff doesn’t have to be this way,” said Brown, 36, an assistant professor of public health at Morgan State University.
Brown went on to link the issue of police misconduct with the everyday community crime and violence in Baltimore that appears to be surging at the moment.
“The reason you can’t control crime in the community is because we don’t have trust in you. Right? Effective policing requires trust in the community. And vice versa,” Brown said.
Nicolas did not reply. The police officers, who had arrived by the vanload at the offices of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 on Buena Vista Avenue, held their positions in silence.
There were no arrests and the marchers left peacefully around 6:30 p.m.
“Leave Marilyn Mosby Alone”
The protest was the first to be staged at the headquarters of the union, whose president Gene Ryan has vigorously defended the six officers charged in connection with Gray’s death from severe spinal injuries and criticized protesters who have marched by the thousands since the incident, calling them “a lynch mob.” It was organized by the coalition group Baltimore United for Change.
Ryan has also called for the recusal of the prosecutor who announced the charges, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby.
The FOP has filed a formal objection to Mosby, citing conflicts of interest it says she has with a member of the media, her city councilman husband, Nick Mosby, and her campaign supporter, William H. “Billy” Murphy, the attorney representing Gray’s family.
Union officials did not address the crowd yesterday, and when a reporter approached the building earlier in the day, a staffer locked the door, saying, “The office is closed.”
When the protesters arrived, they referenced the union’s earlier comments directly.
“Leave Marilyn Mosby alone!” “Stop trying to mess with our sister!”
Addressing the officers, Brown asked them to stop “calling us names and ‘lynch mob’ when that whole history of lynching was really the other way around.”
A National Problem
One of the people who addressed the crowd had come from a long way, Spokane NAACP president Rachel Dolezal.
Dolezal spoke about the 37-year-old man, Lorenzo Hayes, who died in Spokane police custody earlier this month.
“Not only have we had these incidents with police, I have received these racist threats – death threats,” Dolezal said, speaking with The Brew. “I just came to support Baltimore. We are dealing with a national problem.”
Friends of Gray and several local activists also spoke, including J.C. Faulk, who read from a prepared statement. [Full text below]
“It does not matter the eventual disposition of this particular case,” Faulk said. “We know that people who are sworn to protect American citizens are indiscriminately murdering people or ignoring harm inflicted upon them.”
Activist Kinji Scott said he came to the protest out of concern for both police misconduct and the violent crime that, on the day of the protest, claimed five victims, including one dead, in a shoot-out in McElderry Park in East Baltimore.
“We’ve got to do something about all of it,” Scott said. “It’s all connected, and it’s all a tragedy.”
Below is the text of “Open Letter from Baltimore,” read at the demonstration by its author, local activist J.C. Faulk: