‘All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Grey’

Photo : Richard Reilly

Photo : Richard Reilly

As of the evening of April 27, hundreds of Black youth rebelled against the police in west and east Baltimore following the funeral of Freddie Grey.  Over 250 were arrested.  The Maryland governor has called in the national guard and declared a five-day curfew from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. starting April 28.  

April 27 — Since the horrific death of Freddie Carlos Grey, who appears to have been tortured by the police, the community here has been protesting practically every day.

Videos of Freddie Grey’s encounter with the police on April 12 show him screaming in agony while being dragged to a police wagon. He appears to be injured and in extreme pain. His head is tilted and legs bent. What is also known is that while police drove him around and stopped to shackle his legs, he received no medical attention during this time.

When he finally arrived at the hospital, Grey was unresponsive. His family reports that his voice box was shattered, he suffered massive fractures to three vertebrae and his spinal cord was almost completely severed.

Freddie Grey clung to life for seven days before he died on April 19.

Since then the community has continued to demonstrate. On April 20 at 9 a.m., the Greater Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Baltimore People’s Power Assembly held a press conference at City Hall at the request of family members, calling for the indictment, conviction and jailing of the six police who killed their son.

That evening, protests continued at the Western District police station, whose headquarters sits in the middle of the neighborhood where Freddie Grey was accosted by police.

In the evening of April 21, 3,000 people gathered at Presbury and N. Mount streets and then marched to the Western District. This outpouring captured the attention of the world. Many of Grey’s friends and neighborhood acquaintances, who have borne the brunt of police abuse, harassment, shakedowns and physical brutality, were in the crowd.  Many of these youth as well as older community residents felt they could express their anger and frustration. The chant “All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Grey” has become the protesters’ anthem.

By April 22, police began to barricade the streets around the Western District in an attempt to prevent protests at the police station. When residents and supporters could not get in front of the station, they decided to take the protest downtown. Young people poured into the streets and blocked major intersections, including Martin Luther King Boulevard.

On April 23, the Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, president of the Baltimore SCLC and a member of the People’s Power Assembly, announced to the media that these groups were launching an independent people’s investigation into the details of Freddie Grey’s death. Terence Jones, a national civil rights investigator, joined the press conference and began immediately interviewing witnesses.

Protests continued the entire week, including a rally later that day at City Hall called by the Rev. Jamal Bryant, followed by a youth march downtown.

On April 25, the Baltimore chapters of the PPA and the SCLC, along with many other groups, called for a citywide march downtown from the spot where Grey had been dragged to the police wagon. Over 5,000 people joined, including supporters from as far away as Ferguson, Mo., New York City and Philadelphia, and marched throughout the downtown to City Hall.

Youth rebel; protests continue into night

After the rally at City Hall ended, hundreds of protesters marched back to the Inner Harbor, a tourist and business area, and to the Camden Yards stadium, where an Orioles baseball game was beginning. Police in riot gear faced off with demonstrators, swinging billy clubs and attempting to push them out of the intersection of Pratt and Light streets. The same thing happened at the Camden Yards location.  At one point, reported a participant, a cop yelled, “Get these ni—ers off the streets.”

It was at this point that police cruiser windows were broken. Later, windows of several downtown stores were broken, including The Gallery, an upscale Inner Harbor mall, and a 7-Eleven.

Protests also continued at the Western District police station. At around 10:30 p.m., police phalanxes donned riot gear and charged protesters at the Western District, while defiant youth yelled and screamed.

Police swept streets in this besieged neighborhood and clubbed and arrested people.

Some 35 people, four of them minors, were arrested.

Workers World reporters have yet to find out the extent of the charges on which many of these youth are being held. Legal support is being organized, and youth are slowly being released.

PPA organizers call for solidarity and amnesty

On the night of April 26, the Baltimore PPA held  an emergency protest at Central Booking, where arrestees were being held. Speakers expressed the community’s support and demanded amnesty for all arrestees.

Baltimore PPA organizer Sharon Black stated, “The anger, pent-up frustration and rage that many people across this country have witnessed on their television screens is based on decades of racist abuse and neglect in communities all across Baltimore. It is about police terror, and it is also about unemployment and low wages, decaying housing and lack of services. Just two weeks ago, prior to Freddie Grey’s murder, the city announced water shut-offs to 25,000 households.”

The Baltimore PPA and the Baltimore SCLC have been organizing against police terror for many years. They have heard first-hand accounts from youths as young as 12 about being handcuffed, driven around in police cruisers, terrorized and then released.  Women have spoken about sexual assaults by police. Beatings and shakedowns are common.

The Rev. C.D. Witherspoon explained, “Freddie Grey is not the first victim of police murder in this mostly Black city.  His name is added to a whole long list of victims: Tyrone West, Darin Hutchins, Anthony Anderson, George King, Maurice Johnson and many others.”

He delivered a strong message to the protesters: “We cannot allow the city, police or media to divide us. We cannot equate property damage with the loss of human life. Freddie Grey cannot be brought back to his family or friends; a window can be repaired. We intend to be here for the youth now and here for them in the long haul.”

The Baltimore Police Department and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake have issued statements referring to protesters coming from “outside” to stir up trouble. Protest organizers from Baltimore have clearly stated they believe the mayor and the police department are attempting to distract attention from the real issue: indicting, convicting and jailing the six police who killed Freddie Grey.

Andre Powell, a state worker and union activist, stated, “If the mayor is indeed worried about ‘outsiders,’ then get the cops out of the community. The majority of them do not live in the city, and they constitute a virtual occupation army. Tell Governor Hogan to withdraw the State Police he has deployed.”

Larry Holmes, a national organizer of the People’s Power Assembly from New York City, who came to assist Baltimore activists, stated, “I’m proud to be an outside agitator!” He explained that police terror and racism are a national problem.

Sunday’s wake and today’s funeral drew over a thousand people. Throngs couldn’t get into the church and passing cars honked their horns.

Note: Workers World uses the spelling “Grey” out of respect for Freddie Carlos Grey. Many friends and family in the community have confirmed that this was his preference and not an “alias,” as police have claimed. Other media are calling him “Freddie Gray.”