Sixteen activists were arrested early last Thursday morning in Baltimore city after a sit-in at city hall. The sit-in followed a sub-committee hearing to confirm interim police commissioner Davis as the permanent commissioner. Lasting from Wednesday night into the early morning, Davis called the sit-in an “act of civil disobedience” that “is just part of this moment.” Davis is part of the establishment, setting an ethic in the police department that if officers can justify feeling threatened they can act to protect themselves in how they engage with protestors and anyone else. The youth activists and allies at the sit-in at city hall were calling on Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and interim commissioner Davis to respond to their requests to meet with them to discuss the way the police have been engaging with protestors and the larger public.
a young boy looks on as tanks his street
An excerpt from their letter of demands: “As police from other jurisdictions have converged upon Baltimore and a State of Emergency has been issued leading to the deployment of the National Guard replete with tanks and rifles, we are concerned about an escalation of tensions, increased arrests and physical danger to protesters. … Residents need to know who is making decisions and law enforcement must have one central command. Officers must also be individually accountable. During the pre-trial hearings [for Freddie Gray], for example, we noticed officers without badges and name tags, undercover cops acting as protesters carrying firearms, and wrongful arrests – all practices that must be halted. We must establish accountability immediately. Without it, the already hostile relationship between citizens and police will continue to deteriorate.”
The sit-in was part of a movement to demand and assure accountability by police officers to the people they serve; a movement which has gone much beyond a moment and demands this recognition and respect by police officials. The minimization of this movement for accountability offers another slap in the face toward equity, freedom, and justice. The protest was part of a movement to stop the violence being used by police in Baltimore, against protestors and any one who the police feels threatened by.
This is a dangerous situation we are in, in a majority black city with disproportionate arrests and incarceration of black-skinned individuals; and one we have always been with because a black-skinned person is presumed a threat in America, just for being black. Why do white people cross the street when black people are coming down the street? Why do more black people get pulled over and incarcerated than white people? Why do shop keepers follow black people in stores? Why do black men and women get shot, and black children with toy guns? -Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland- Because they are generally seen as threatening and police officers and the general public feel justifiable threatened. When has a white man not been challenged by a black man in the United States of America? We have been living with the result of such “justifiable threat” since slavery. The result is that white supremacist structures continue to propagate the illusion that black-skinned individuals are a threat to society. These perceptions continue to perpetuate structural racism in all our systems-criminal justice, health, housing, education, recreation. This pattern of police brutality in Baltimore has been going on well before the death of Freddie Gray during police custody in April 2015. The Baltimore Sun’s 2014 investigative series on police violence in Baltimore resulting in more than $4 million dollars in payment to victims is a recent example of this history.
Today, Davis was officially confirmed by the full city council as the new police commissioner. Youth activists and allies were again in their rightful place in city hall, building a movement of accountability and participatory democracy in how their city is run. Where else should they be? In fact, there should have been more people there. The young people are organizing in Baltimore, demanding that the police department back up from their violent perceptions and behavior toward peaceful protestors. Today as they rallied to city hall before the final confirmation, the chants included: “Back up, back up, we want freedom, freedom.” Indeed, how can freedom be assured when police officials support an environment threatening those involved in civil disobedience. We support our young people taking to the streets to “demand freedom, freedom” and their movement building for justice. In order to move away from the current police-state we are in, it will take a constant demand for freedom, not just by the youth but all of Baltimore and beyond. And if the current culture of policing in Baltimore remains a threat to black-skinned individuals and those who protest, well, like the chant says: “shut it down”!
National Guard snipers during city hall rally in April 2015