Within a two-day period in late January, the Baltimore City Police Department shot two Black people, killing one of them. In response, the Baltimore People’s Power Assembly held a protest in front of the Baltimore City Police Headquarters on Jan. 31 to demand justice for Darin Hutchins, whom the cops killed on Jan. 24.
Later the day of the protest, the Baltimore County Police killed Edwin Bright Sr. All of the victims were African Americans.
During the week before the protest, Sara Benjamin and Steven Ceci of the People’s Power Assembly conducted an investigation in the neighborhood where Darin Hutchins was killed and spoke to eyewitnesses. Those who knew Hutchins explained that he had a history of mental illness. PPA spokesperson Benjamin declared, “The police and the system criminalize Black people and stigmatize people who have psychiatric illnesses.”
The story the eyewitnesses told was much different than the public relations story the police department handed the media. Benjamin explained that the witness who stood next to Hutchins when he was gunned down by Officer Donald Gaff told her that before firing the two shots, the officer gave Hutchins zero time to drop a kitchen knife.
Ceci, another PPA organizer, added, “We are angry that the news media has repeated the public relations story told by police spokespeople before they spoke to anyone in the neighborhood or to any of the witnesses.” He reported that the witness who stood next to Darin Hutchins did not feel endangered by him at any time; in fact, she put her arm around him. Instead, she was terrified by the police and “at this moment has asked that her name not be published for fear of reprisal.”
Ceci also said the witness, a friend of Hutchins, said, “The white cop who shot Darin moved the knife and put it on a table” even after she objected. She “had to scream at the cop to stop shooting.”
One of the youngest activists at the Jan. 31 protest, Kira Lynae, concluded the PPA rally by calling for an end to devaluing Black lives: “Black lives matter, as do the lives of all those marginalized and oppressed, including the LGTBQIA community, women and those with disabilities, who are many times forgotten.”
PPA organizers took note of the scores of police cars lined up during the rally, plus the plainclothes police who were standing by ready to infiltrate the demonstration, a practice implemented at all recent #BlackLivesMatter protests.