Baltimore residents took to the streets this past week to protest the death of Freddie Gray, who died on April 19 from a spinal cord injury after his arrest a week earlier. While the protests have largely remained peaceful, pockets of violence erupted on Saturday evening, and by Monday night, riots caused the University to order students on Homewood Campus to remain indoors.
In an email to the University community Tuesday night, President Ronald J. Daniels condemned the violence as inexcusable and joined those across the city who are seeking answers to the circumstances surrounding Gray’s death.
“We join those who are endorsing the urgency of a full and independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Gray’s death,” he wrote. “It is essential that all of our city’s citizens have trust and confidence in professional and fair treatment by our police.”
Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and activated the national guard Monday night.
“We’re going to bring whatever resources are necessary, whatever assets are necessary, as much manpower as necessary to let the citizens of Baltimore know that their neighborhoods are going to be safe, that they’re not going to be in danger, and that their property will be protected. We’re not going to have another repeat of what happened last night,” Hogan said at a Tuesday press conference.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has instituted a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. that began Tuesday night and will last until at least May 4. The University is encouraging students to be in their residences before nightfall.
The Homewood Campus shelter-in-place order was issued at 10 p.m. Monday night. Two non-affiliates were arrested on campus shortly after that time. Students in the Milton S. Eisenhower Library, Brody Learning Commons, Gilman Hall and the Ralph S. O’Connor Recreation Center remained there until midnight when the order was modified to allow students to return home.
On Tuesday, Hopkins cancelled classes and evening events at all Baltimore campuses, including the much-anticipated Race in America forum, featuring Baltimore native and Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates.
The University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) and the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) did not cancel classes, although MICA ended early. In response to the decision to close Hopkins, Dennis O’Shea, executive director for Media Relations and Crisis Communications, said that the call was made out of caution.
“There were no specific threats against Johns Hopkins or anywhere else. There was continued uncertainty,” O’Shea said. “There were rumors in social media that could not be pinned down one way or another — again, not directly impacting Johns Hopkins but impacting various places around the city. And so we felt, in an abundance of care and precaution, that it made sense to change our earlier stance and close for the day.”
According to O’Shea, the decision to cancel classes was made by a group of University officials led by Provost Robert C. Lieberman and Daniel G. Ennis, the senior vice president for Finance and Administration. University President Ronald J. Daniels was not directly involved but was kept up-to-date on the situation.
Campus Safety and Security has put its officers on extended shifts and is working with off-duty Baltimore Police Department (BPD) officers.
More peaceful protest resumed Wednesday. More than 1,000 people, including many high school and college students, marched from Pennsylvania Station to City Hall. According to Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, 18 people were arrested, though he was unsure of the reasons for the arrests.
The also Orioles held their first game since Sunday but played in an empty stadium. Camden Yards was closed for security reasons.
Protests spread to New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston and Ferguson, Mo. among other cities on Wednesday. Hundreds of New York protesters marched throughout Manhattan. More than 100 people were arrested.
Protests also occurred in Ferguson on Tuesday. According to Ferguson Police Department spokesman Jeff Small, three people were shot in protests that night.
A calm start
Peaceful protests took place throughout last week following Gray’s death, with participants demanding answers, action by the city and an end to police brutality in Baltimore and across the country. On Saturday afternoon, an estimated 1,200 people marched at City Hall and through the Inner Harbor and Federal Hill.
The crowd, carrying signs saying “Black lives matter” and chanting “No justice, no peace,” was made up of mostly Baltimore men, women and children, but some had traveled from as far as Ferguson, Mo.
Around 6:30 p.m. a group broke off and migrated to Camden Yards, where they engaged with the several dozen BPD officers who were there, dressed in riot gear.
The protesters threw rocks at the officers and smashed the windows of police cars and storefronts. They later looted a 7-Eleven store on N. Howard Street.
Attendees of the Orioles game that night were instructed to remain in the stadium until the streets had cleared.
Many Baltimore residents tried to stop the violence downtown, putting themselves between police and protesters in order to prevent further escalation.
“What I was very, very pleased to see, and I saw this throughout the day — Baltimore residents were telling people in the crowd to calm down and to relax,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said. “And I was very proud of them for doing that.”
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake also noted the residents’ efforts.
“I… want to thank another group of people: those people who put themselves in harm’s way to stand between those who wished to destroy our city and the men and women who were fighting so hard to protect it,” she said.
On Monday, BPD officers responded to the rumor of a “purge” to take place at Mondawmin Mall in West Baltimore, a reference to a film where all laws are abolished. Police met students at the mall, which is a hub for city after-school transportation, and the demonstrations became violent.
The demonstrators — many of whom were juveniles — threw rocks, bricks and bottles at the officers, who responded with tear gas and pepper spray. Looting spread Monday night across mainly West Baltimore, and police cars were set on fire, as was a CVS Pharmacy. BPD continued to deploy resources to the active areas.
Capt. Eric Kowalczyk of the BPD said Tuesday that at least 20 police officers were injured, and 201 adults and 34 minors were arrested Monday night. He also said 12 more people were arrested on Tuesday — seven adults and five juveniles. Additionally, at least, 144 vehicle fires were reported on Monday night and Tuesday morning, according to Kowalczyk.
Howard Libit, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, said that 15 structures were set on fire Monday night.
According to Deputy Public Defender Natalie Finegar, 101 of the protesters arrested on Monday night were released from jail Wednesday night. She believes they were detained illegally.
The Harbor East Campus of the Carey Business School closed early Monday due to the scheduled demonstrations, as did the UMB and MICA. The Orioles games Monday and Tuesday nights were both postponed.
Batts believes the city-wide curfew, help from other police departments and the presence of the
National Guard will help the BPD more adequately handle future protests.
“I think the curfew is going to help us to get the city under control. The extra resources is the biggest issue for us,” Batts said. “I know people would compare us to Ferguson. Ferguson is a much smaller city. Baltimore is almost close to about 80 square miles, and when we have multiple areas popping up, we have to have the resources and the numbers… We had opposite ends of the city pulling us at the same time, so extra resources here will allow us to get on top of the issues at multiple locations.”
Batts said the BPD has requested support from police departments in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie confirmed that police from his state would assist as well.
“Don’t tear up the whole city just for him.”
Overall, locals decried the violence of Monday night. Hundreds of pastors walked down North Avenue, singing of peace, and members of Christian churches joined the Nation of Islam in forming a human wall to prevent confrontation.
“Peace is the call and the order of the day,” said Rev. Jamal Bryant of Empowerment Temple, who helped organize his parishioners. “This is a peaceful movement, and we plan on maintaining that. Violence is not the answer for justice.”
Tuesday night featured more largely peaceful protests. At North and Pennsylvania Avenues, where the CVS still simmered, demonstrations transformed into a block party of sorts, with dancers, drum lines and a markedly less tense atmosphere.
Rawlings-Blake noted a distinction in the goals of the peaceful and violent demonstrators.
“It is very clear there is a difference between what we saw over the past week with the peaceful protests — those who wish to seek justice, those who wish to be heard and want answers — and the difference between those protests and the thugs who only want to incite violence and destroy our city,” she said.
The protests on Monday erupted only a few hours after thousands gathered for Gray’s funeral at the New Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest Baltimore. His family had called for no demonstrations to take place that day out of respect for Gray.
Amid the violent protesting, Gray’s family returned to the New Shiloh Baptist Church in the evening for a news conference.
“We had a beautiful homegoing service and to see that it turned into all this violence and destruction — I am really appalled,” Richard Shipley, Gray’s stepfather, said.
Gloria Darden, Gray’s mother, also condemned the violence.
“I want y’all to get justice for my son, but don’t do it like this here,” she said. “Don’t tear up the whole city just for him. It’s wrong.”
Fredericka Gray, the twin sister of Freddie Gray, said she does not believe that all the protesters are fighting for justice for her brother.
“I don’t agree with that violence that they’re doing to the city. That’s too much. I don’t think all that’s for Freddie Gray,” she said. “Freddie Gray wasn’t that type of person to break into a store… I don’t like it at all.”
The NAACP released a statement Tuesday calling for nonviolent protests in the pursuit of justice.
"On Monday, over 20 NAACP family, including our national board chairman, Roslyn M. Brock, attended the funeral service for Freddie Gray. The family, community and the NAACP are mourning. The city of Baltimore now burns in the flames of violence that may leave more dead. The loss of more lives will neither comfort Mr. Gray’s family nor explain the incidents that led to his death. The NAACP stands in solidarity with Baltimore residents and those from across the state who have assembled peacefully to demand justice for the tragic and senseless death of Freddie Gray… Looting and violence do not represent flowers or a sympathy card to the grieving family of Freddie Gray. Please join the NAACP in being both angry over injustice and nonviolent in seeking justice,” the statement read.
U.S. President Barack Obama discussed the demonstrations at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
“There’s no excuse for the kind of violence that we saw yesterday. It is counterproductive. When individuals get crowbars and start prying open to loot, they’re not protesting; they’re not making a statement; they’re stealing,” Obama said. “When they burn down a building, they’re committing arson. And they’re destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities… It is entirely appropriate that the mayor of Baltimore, who I spoke to yesterday, and the governor, who I spoke to yesterday, work to stop that kind of senseless violence and destruction.”
“That is not a protest,” he said. “That’s a handful of people taking advantage of a situation for their own purposes and they need to be treated as criminals.”