BALTIMORE — After an unprecedented week of upheaval, thousands in this beleaguered city came out once again Saturday, this time hoping that the end of chaos would mark the beginning of real change.
The crowd gathered at City Hall on a gorgeous spring day may have been smaller than the 5,000 predicted when the rally was planned, but it was decidedly upbeat.
Protesters who had grown hoarse calling for police to be held accountable in the death of Freddie Gray seemed almost disoriented by getting their wish. Some toggled between euphoria and skepticism. Others tried to keep the pressure on, saying that only a conviction would equal justice.
But as the day wore on, the peaceful mood shifted as residents chafed at the prospect of yet another evening of police-imposed restrictions. Toward the end of the afternoon, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts announced that a mandatory curfew would stay in place for a fifth night. As the 10 p.m. restriction arrived, dozens of demonstrators remained on the streets, and police began arresting them. “You will be subject to arrest,” blared a voice from a helicopter circling overhead.
Still, on a day when rival Bloods and Crips gang members could appear together at the microphone, protesters celebrated that a door seemed to open a crack — and they agreed that it now needed to be kicked wide.
Andre Powell, 60, leaned against an office building a block from City Hall and tried to make sense of a week unlike any other in his 20 years of organizing around the issue of “police terror.”
“It’s not over. That’s really important,” said Powell, a Maryland state employee. “The officers haven’t been put on trial. They haven’t spent a day in jail. We’ve only won one battle.”
This moment must be leveraged, Powell said, to establish more civilian control over the Baltimore police and set up a review board with subpoena power. People need to seize this moment to come forward with their stories. Freddie Gray’s death was horrific, but he was far from an outlier.
Caneisha Mills said the good feelings won’t last unless the criminal charges are followed by much more than guilty verdicts.
“We need education centers, social programs, counselors,” said Mills, a middle school teacher from Washington who traveled to Baltimore as part of a group from the D.C.-Ferguson movement. “It’s not just that we’re sad about Freddie Gray.”
The festive vibe and abundance of vendors and street performers made clear how much tension had drained away since Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby acted with surprising swiftness Friday, publicly declaring Gray’s death a homicide and describing his allegedly illegal arrest, callous treatment by officers and severe spinal injury suffered in the back of a police van.
Even as they celebrated — some called Saturday’s gathering a victory march — many yearned for an end to upheavals that have included burning shops, round-the-clock media glare and a 10 p.m. curfew.
Tracey Hines, 38, wore a homemade “No More Curfew” T-shirt on Saturday morning. She was in a good mood after Friday’s charges, but she was also ready for her normal routines to resume. A cook at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Hines has been out of work all week as two Orioles baseball games were postponed and one remarkable one was played before an empty stadium. A weekend series was also moved to the Tampa Bay Rays’ Tropicana Field.
The Maryland ACLU called for the curfew to be lifted in a statement Saturday, describing it as “an extraordinary measure that has clearly outlived its usefulness.”
The office of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Saturday described the huge scale of resources the state has poured into the city over the week, including 3,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen, more than 1,000 troopers from three states and up to 2,500 cases of canned goods, frozen chicken and water delivered to food pantries around Baltimore. A state employee has been stationed at Martin State Airport every night just to fuel police helicopters.
Police maintained a sizable presence Saturday, and some protesters and tourists snapped pictures with officers and National Guard soldiers. In announcing the continuation of the curfew Saturday night, authorities said they wanted to ensure that a peaceful day ended the same way.
“The violence of last Monday was unprecedented for this city,” Batts said late in the day. “Tonight we see some of the same people in Baltimore that were here last Monday. We recognize the concerns over the curfew. Tonight, for everyone’s safety, we’re going to keep the curfew in place.”
As marchers moved away from the rally, some from the group Ferguson Uprising posed in front of the police wearing shorts that cursed them as others snapped photos. The police — a group of local cops, state police and National Guard — were impassive.
One Ferguson Uprising member encouraged people planning to defy curfew to bring a gas mask. Gesturing behind him, he said the police would use tear gas.
Other protesters however, gave friendly nods to the cops. “Peace,” said one, and a couple officers smiled and said “Peace” back.
African American residents, who have spent the week describing lives of slowly grinding poverty punctuated by terrifying encounters with police, hoped that law enforcement had finally heard their cries. One white marcher in the racially mixed crowd carried a sign that read “White People — Shut Up and Listen.”
An East Baltimore resident who gave his name only as C. Allen sat resting in the Zion Lutheran Church “peace garden” listening to the crowd of about 2,000 at the rally.
“Public officials and police need to come out in similar numbers,” Allen said. “The key is to earn back the trust of the young people. They’re fed up, they’ve been lied to and abused.”
Karen Frederick, 56, was impressed with how fast charges were filed against the six officers involved in Gray’s arrest. But she has seen protests fizzle before. Her nephew Shawn Cannady was shot by police in 2009, prompting calls for an investigation by the NAACP and elected officials. Cannady’s family marched weekly demanding answers, Frederick said. The marches faded and, although the city settled a lawsuit with the family, no officer was fired, Frederick said.
In the Gray case, Frederick is waiting for a jury to speak. “It’s too early to celebrate, because they haven’t been tried by the courts,” she said.
The crowd was a mix of black and white, locals and visitors. Carla Tannehill and Trenton Hawkins, of Moore, Okla., paused their vacation in the District to attend the rally. The interracial couple wore matching “Black Lives Matter” shirts. (She’s white. He’s black.)
“There’s too many black men being killed by white officers,” said Hawkins, who was encouraged the Baltimore officers were charged but seeing that as just a start.
Tannehill said she was shocked by the poverty in the city, as she passed boarded up homes and projects in East Baltimore.
“I’m embarrassed for America,” Tannehill said.
For the most part, Saturday’s demonstrators were having none of the arguments raging in legal circles about the speed and harshness of the charges against the six officers, which include second-degree depraved-heart murder, involuntary manslaughter and false imprisonment. The Baltimore police union called the action an “egregious rush to judgement.”
West Baltimore attorney Tierra Gregory, who was taking pictures of her two nieces with uniformed soldiers Saturday, said she had heard the criticism that Mosby was “overreaching” with the aggressive charges. She agreed, but said it was common practice.
“Prosecutors do that all the time with criminals,” Gregory said. “They file numerous charges not knowing which ones will stick. Just because these defendants are police officers doesn’t mean they will do anything differently.”
Powell, the community organizer, was asked if the officers could get a fair trial in Baltimore City. He paused for a minute.
“I think there are people in Baltimore who can listen. The facts will speak and the facts will determine.”
He wants to see the eventual trials televised.
“Just like O.J.”
But there were dissenters. Robin Loeppke, in town with her husband for a medical conference, said the process seemed rushed.
“I feel like it was too soon to file charges,” Loeppke said. “I feel like all of this violence and media attention has put pressure on officials to act.”
By the end of the day, the city seemed ready to settle in for a slower phase. Some news programs had moved on to the British royal baby, and the police union had organized a defense fund for what promises to be a long legal process for the six officers. That effort had gotten off to rough start Friday when the Internet fundraising site GoFundMe.com quickly suspended a campaign seeking $600,000, saying the request violated its rules.
A site said Saturday that it doesn’t allow crowd-source fundraising “to benefit those charged with serious violations of the law.”