Hundreds filled Baltimore’s streets Saturday afternoon and evening, demanding justice following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
The protest included a caravan of cars and trucks plastered with “Black Lives Matter” signs – horns beeping, fists thrust out of windows – and a crowd on foot chanting, “No justice, no peace, no racist police” and “When black lives are under attack, stand up, fight back.”
The group marched in Old Goucher, West Baltimore, Mount Vernon, Harbor East and – late Saturday evening – assembled in front of City Hall, demanding an end to police brutality.
There the demonstrators were met by about 70 Baltimore Police in riot gear, where some tense confrontations erupted, including police at one point firing pepper balls.
There was no major reported property damage. A display window was smashed at a bank building on Lombard Street, and a police van was defaced with graffiti.
There appeared to have been no violent outbreaks during the confrontations downtown. (A widely circulated video showed some people throwing water bottles and a young woman telling them to stop.)
After yelling and pressing against police barricades at City Hall – and chasing off a TV crew – members of the crowd began dispersing about 10 p.m., many headed for the Inner Harbor.
“You continue to kill us!”
Unlike dozens of other U.S. cities racked by rioting and looting, the demonstrations in Baltimore were overwhelmingly peaceful.
The mostly young, racially diverse crowd of marchers kept their cool. But what the day of action had on vivid display, for hours, was bristling anger.
The mostly young, racially diverse crowd kept their cool. But what the day of action had on vivid display, for hours, was bristling anger.
The march passed through Penn-North, the neighborhood that erupted five years ago when another young black man, Freddie Gray, died in police custody.
At those 2015 protests, sometimes known as “The Uprising,” signs bore the names of previous victims of police violence.
Yesterday’s march had new names along with that of Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes as he lay on the ground, handcuffed.
“You continue to kill us! Why? Why?” one man’s sign read.
“It’s a generational thing. If we don’t stand up to this injustice, it will continue to go on,” said 24-year-old Malik Turner, who is a resident advisor for a dorm at Towson University.
“If we don’t stand up to this injustice, it will continue to go on” – Malik Turner.
“The way I see it, the whole government is here to protect the cops,” he said. “This is the best way to use our voice – show we’re tired of this and empowered to move forward.”
“Nothing seems to change”
The failure of Minneapolis authorities to immediately fire and charge the four officers involved in Floyd’s violent arrest was especially frustrating for Shaun Crombey.
“We march all the time and nothing seems to change,” said Crombey, 26, who’s originally from Philadelphia but has lived in Baltimore for the past eight years. “It comes to a point where you can’t take it anymore and you get angry.”
Since President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, Crombey said he’s experienced more and more racist behavior.
“Racist people have come out of the woodwork and are a lot more bold with it,” Crombey said.
“I hadn’t had to deal with racism since forever, but now it’s small things. Like you see a lady you’re walking behind clutch her purse in response to you. Those sorts of things piss you off.”
The Final Straw
Forrest Caskey, a 44-year-old professor at Anne Arundel Community College, said watching the video of Floyd moaning,”I can’t breathe,” as Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee pinned against Floyd’s neck was “the final straw.”
“Growing up with a lot of black people in my life, seeing how my experience is so different from theirs, this was incredibly painful,” he said.
As a white person who primarily teaches students from marginalized communities, Caskey said he’s tried to fight racism his whole life.
“Every black student I’ve taught has a story of something the police did to them, whether it’s an unnecessary stop or arrest,” he said.
Stand up, Push Back
In some of the places the protesters marched, their presence was jarring.
In upscale Harbor East, where restaurants were open for the first time in months, they passed by dressed-up diners sipping their wine and eating their entrees.
In neighborhoods away from the waterfront, the protesters were greeted with raised fists and cheers. In Sandtown, a city trash truck driver leaned on his horn.
“It’s a breath of fresh air. I’m glad my kids are getting to see this,” said Trina Ross, who was sitting on her front step with her father and three children snapping pictures.
“It’s time people stand up and push back. It’s the only way things are going to change.”