2 years ago, Baltimore experienced a movement beginning that would change it forever. While I published these photos on
Instagram and Twitter, I never compiled them into a full story.
Baltimore is the kind of place that is always simmering, ready to roll into a boil. One of my friends calls it perpetually pregnant with potential.
On April 12th, Freddie Gray was hauled off in the back of a police van without a seatbelt, all because he had
made eye contact with officer Lt. Brian W. Rice.
As soon as the public began to become aware of the severity of his injuries on April 18th,
protests against police brutality began with protestors turning their backs on officers.
Baltimore is heavily invested in justice, and people had been
protesting violence in the city only the day before.
On April 19th, Freddie Gray died of his injuries.
From that point forward, peaceful protests happened in the city every day, though they weren’t widely reported (
Elephrame is the only group I know who documents that kind of thing).
At that point, I had yet to meet people like
Lawrence Brown, Megan Kenny, The Baltimore Bloc, DeRay Mckesson or Johnetta Elzie but was watching their feeds and live streams intently. I gradually began to get more and more frustrated that what I was seeing on the news wasn’t matching what people on the ground were saying.
I had seen DeRay speak of storytelling as resistance during the movement in Ferguson, and so I finally decided to go out and try to capture what people were saying.
April 25, 2015
“Hold up your phone. You are now an armed soldier. Resist.”
People gather at Gilmore Homes, adjacent to the corner where Freddie Gray was arrested. It begins.
“The time is NOW. The place is HERE.”
People come forward, speaking about the abuse they experience by the Baltimore police. “Beating people up in the paddy wagon is an initiation TRADITION!”
The New Black Panther Party: We have had enough. Stop. Killing. Our. People.
“Hold up your phone. You are now an armed soldier.”
A drone lazily wafts overhead. Not knowing who it belongs to, people get nervous.
At this point, my AT&T service suddenly drops noticeably. This would become a recurring trend during marches during which there was a police presence.
Does West Baltimore get the same treatment as the rest of Baltimore? NO. It must stop.
Under grey skies and police helicopters, we move.
The size of the sign does not matter. What matters is that you are here.
Black Lives Matter. Jobs, Education and a Livable Wage. Not Police Terror.
Clergy, including my friends Jason Chesnut and Sara Shisler Goff, come out in support.
Jason is holding up read as follows:
Jesus traveled to Nazareth, where he had grown up. On the Sabbath day he went to the synagogue, as he always did, and stood up to read. The book of Isaiah the prophet was given to him. He opened the book and found the place where this is written:
“The Lord has put his Spirit in me,:2)
because he appointed me to tell the Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to tell the captives they are free
and to tell the blind that they can see again. (Isaiah 61:1)
God sent me to free those who have been treated unfairly (Isaiah 58:6)
and to announce the time when the Lord will show his kindness.” (Isaiah 61
Jesus closed the book, gave it back to the assistant, and sat down. Everyone in the synagogue was watching Jesus closely. He began to say to them, “While you heard these words just now, they were coming true!”
As we continue, the crowd grows. People come out of their houses and join in.
And as more bullhorns join the crowd, the march fragments in different directions. People’s Power Assembly, who were there at the beginning, attempts to take the crowd one way, while someone else leads them off in a different direction. The People’s Power Assembly gives up and follows. The crowd moves back to the spot Freddie Gray was arrested.
Malik Zulu Shabazz, accompanied by bodyguards, the Fruit of Islam and nearly double the number of protestors joins the group. His megaphone is much more powerful than anyone else’s and he quickly takes charge directing the crowd and the chants.
Back at the site of the arrest, the megaphones fall silent. People mill about, unsure of what to do. Reporters take the opportunity to conduct interviews. More groups march up and join the crowd. From the opposite ends of the street running east and west, multiple small crowds of gang members sporting various colours meet at the corner. People tense up, unsure of what is going to happen next. Two leaders glare at each other, then shake hands. “Damn.” a man next to me says, “They just declared a truce for the duration of the marches.”
Too many MCs, not enough mics. Leaders crowd around Mr Shabazz and arguments break out as to who is leading the march. The Fruit of Islam shoos reporters away who are trying to listen in. In front of a wall that will later become a mural of Freddie Gray, a group of Black Hebrew Israelites argue with people in the crowd that the march is pointless.
Eventually, a consensus is reached, and the crowd begins moving again, much bigger and stronger than it originally was.
Some people attempt to keep Freddie Gray’s family members in a unified line at the front of the march, but there are too many megaphones and too many people.
The Fruit of Islam run ahead of the crowd in the direction of one of Mr Shabazz’s bodyguards and then return to relay where cops are stationed. Malik Shabazz directs the crowd at different points, ignoring other leaders, and circumvents the path the Baltimore City Police thought the march was going to take. We don’t come into contact with any police.
Cars join the throng, riding along slowly. “Stop Police Brutality”
“Racism is the disease, Revolution is the cure.”
A place where History Lives.
The crowd crosses Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, leaving the Black Butterfly and entering The White L. Traffic is backed up for miles. The crowd now is easily in the thousands, bigger than any other march to date.
Fuck the Police.
The leaders halt the crowd in the middle of Greene and Lombard, shutting traffic down.
It happens again at Pratt St.
Finally, the crowd reached Camden Yards, where a Baltimore Orioles game is about to start. Hundreds of mostly white fans peer at the mostly Black crowd from behind a police line.
A father hands his daughter his phone. “Raise it up. This is your weapon.”
Members of the Baltimore Police break the line and come up to try to answer questions.
The crowd moves away from the stadium. A U.S. Army retired gentleman on his motorcycle joins the group. The Fruit of Islam clears the way for him. “We got more soldiers comin’!” he shouts over the roar of his engine.
Instead of Orioles fans, food vendors get protestors. They quickly run out of food and begin packing up.
“We shut it down.”
Dozens of cars join the protest, slowing down traffic on the street to a crawl.
Baltimore gangs, activist groups, and the Fruit of Islam all pause got a group photo, sporting gang signs and pointing upward to God.
Tired protesters are invited by drives to hop in or on cars slowly crawling down the street.
“Black Live = Human Life”
Black Lives Matter.
A bus driver parks her bus and steps into the doorway to film the crowd. I stop and talk to her. “I’m not going anywhere! I might as well enjoy the view!”
Concerned about the potential for the police to cause more violence, a young man steers people away from the barricades and on the the City Hall lawn.
Everything comes to a head as people fill the grass. Speeches begin from Malik Shabazz, but people gradually lose interest.
An even larger drone circles over the news vans.
As the speeches continued, it became very clear that many of the speakers were only interested in asserting themselves as leaders rather than honouring Freddie Gray. Malik Shabazz began to rile up the crowd, but some shouted back at him calling for peace. I didn’t know who he was at that point, but I knew he wasn’t from Baltimore and that he hadn’t worked with the local leaders. A lot of people left at that point.
A group splintered off and headed back up Pratt St. to return to the spot Freddie Gray was arrested for a candlelight vigil. I followed them for a short time, then headed north. As a consequence, I missed being present for a key point which changed the city.
On the way back to Gilford Homes, people in bars hurl insults at the protestors. One reporter gets a stool hurled at him from a drunk white girl in a bar.
Fights break out, and eventually, cop cars are smashed.
Many protesters try to prevent people from confronting the police themselves, restraining others.
At this point, images of the destruction begin circulating the globe. Nobody remembers that 3+ hour peaceful march. Nobody publishes photos of white people punching Black protestors.
Eventually, the Baltimore Police charge the scene.
As predicted, the media fallout is terrible.
April 26, 2015
The very next day, a Blue Lives Matter march is held. Not in Baltimore, but down in Annapolis instead.
April 27, 2015
I had to work, so I wasn’t able to go out.
The buses are shut down at Mondawmin Mall, trapping hundreds of students.
Rocks are thrown at police. Police throw rocks back, and shoot pepper balls and smoke canisters.
Again, the Fruit of Islam come out, but this time without Malik Shabazz and try to keep people safe.
April 28, 2015
I call off work and head out in the morning, hearing that various groups are out cleaning up now that the protests have quieted down.
I pass burned out cars on my way down North Avenue.
Despite the absence of protestors, State troopers, the National Guard and Baltimore police in riot gear are out in full force. It is 10 am. People up and down the streets pick up trash.
The street gradually gets blocked off as people continue to collect trash in bags.
Passers-by pick up brooms and gloves from people who brought them in trucks and clean. People greet each other and then fall silent helping store owners pick up smashed pieces.
While I was out this morning scraping up burnt garbage to help clean up, a man shoved his camera in my face, and said “Are you INSPIRED by the VIOLENCE here? What made you travel all the way here to help out?” This was my response:
Another reporter from a different station comes up and asks me for an interview. I angrily turn it down and ask them why they haven’t talked to any of the Black residents around me.
Hundreds and hundreds of people come out of their homes and clean. People run out of rash to pick up.
I help a group of people toss stuff into a borrowed pick up truck and we make several trips to the dump.
I speak with a man working at the dump. “We’re going to need more containers. Y’all filled this one up in an hour.”
A group of people called me over. “We’ve run out of trash on North Ave, want to help us clean an alley?” I join them.
A 3rd reporter approaches me as we’re working on the alley. “Will you speak to me?” he asks cautiously, “I’m with the Estonian Public News.” I eye him sceptically. “I heard what you said to the other reporter,” he continues, “I understand. We are interviewing a lot of local people. It is my job to make sure Black and white people are represented. Will you tell me a little about how all these people found out about this?”
After several hours of work, this is what our alley looked like.
Despite the police blocking the street, they offer no direction for confused motorists. One man steps up and directs traffic.
“I don’t want anyone anywhere near the cops.”
North Avenue is completely blocked at this point, with 3 armoured vehicles and police in riot gear. “Why are they even here?” a lady shouts at a news camera. “This is a provocation.”
“Nobody is here except the people who cleaned.” remarks a man sitting on the side. “Why are they here?”
The 300 Men March come out, protecting the people in front of the library. I would eventually join this group, walking the streets with them every Friday night for a year to reduce violence in Baltimore.
Many businesses put out signs declaring they are Black-owned.
Peace rallies pop up all over the city. At least 5 are held in the late afternoon. I attend one at Amazing Grace Lutheran on the East side.
The pastor opens the gathering: “Good evening! …except it’s really not, and that’s why we’re here.”
Poet Maya Camille calls out the crowd in lament: “I’m tired of pain. We are here to change the system that has been pushing down my people for generations. We need to do good in the face of this violence.”
A man from the back speaks: “The change needs to be from the ground up. We need to improve our own community, from neighbourhood watch to trash pickup”
No news vans, no police in riot gear. Just a lot of people gathered who want real change.
That night, a 10 pm curfew is imposed on the city by the mayor. However, the white neighbours and the media out in the Black neighbourhoods ignore the curfew.
April 29, 2015
The city is mostly quiet. But not really.
April 29, 2015
A protest happens in front of city hall, I go out.
People are calm, but vocal. I meet Kwame Rose for the first time. He talks to a Black officers standing in line. “Why have you betrayed your community?” he asks.
It begins to rain. But nobody leaves. A woman holds up a sign in response to Stephanie Rawlings-Blake calling the protesters “thugs”.
“If you’re not in debt to the system, you do not matter. Either in jail or in college.”
As dusk falls, more people arrive. The National Guard takes the place of the police line, holding guns.
Politicians like councilman Carl Stokes come out of city hall for interviews. “Our schools are mediocre at best” he says.
Anderson Cooper comes out. “It has been revealed that the police van carrying Freddie Gray made extra stops…”
A teacher gets interviewed. “I’ve been unable to protest because I’ve been at work. But I’m here now. And I’ll be here all weekend.”
Officer Ray Lewis, who was arrested during the Occupy Protests, comes down from Philadelphia to support the protestors in Baltimore.
I ask him what the Baltimore Police needs to change. “That’s easy. They need two things. 1, Transparency. 2, A civilian review board WITH the ability to fire. Only then will things actually change for you here.”
At front and center is this statue: “In Memory of the Negro Heroes”, in thanks for their service. Literally; #BlackLivesMatter.
Joseph Kent, who was arrested earlier in a very violent manner, speaks: “We want ANSWERS. Violence delays the answer. Protests demand them.” May 1, 2015
I heard that the 300 Men Match is holding a protest in Park Heights. Hearing many good things about them and watching to join, I head up there.
Park Heights and Coldspring, flooded with the National Guard.
The 300 Men March occupy the corners and the median, holding up signs reading “we must stop killing each other.”
May 2, 2015
A massive protest rivalling the April 25th protest gathers at City Hall.
The atmosphere is jovial, people are celebrating the coming of change to the city. Vendors sell #BlackLivesMatter shirts.
A call goes out over the loudspeaker for people to lower signs so that cameras can see people speaking on the podium. It quickly becomes apparent this is a production.
The crowd grows to epic proportions.
There are clear layers of barriers. From City Hall, there are the sheriffs, then Baltimore City Police, then the National Guard, then the media, then the speakers VIP section, then the people. Layers of barriers separate everyone.
Men poke their heads from the above the war memorial. Rumours circulate that they’re snipers.
No justice, no peace. No racist police!
I meet up with a bunch of activists who have travelled here to record and share what people are saying. I meet with Justin Hansford, Autumn Marie, Johnetta Elzie, DeRay Mckesson, and Brittany Packnett.
A group of head up to protest at the lodge for the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police. They have been asking for donations for the officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray. Several activists have been getting GoFundMe and IndieGoGo to shut down pages gathering money (which are against the policies of the site).
The group brings fake money in bags to give to the officers.
An officer refuses any more questions once he realizes the group shuts down donations.
A line police supporter walks by with a sign as DeRay posts his comments in the background. The supporter eventually begins shouting at the crowd when asked why he supports the police, and then walks off angrily.
My wife Tamika texts me and lets me know they’re giving out food and water to protesters back at City Hall, so I head back down there.
These aren’t ‘riots’. You are watching an unjust system be dismantled.
My wife and kids make a mural on a sheet calling for justice for Freddie Gray.
Justice here means justice everywhere.
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