May Day in Baltimore: Thousands march for amnesty
The Baltimore People’s Power Assembly called a special rally and march for May Day, also known as International Worker’s Day, to demand justice for Freddie Grey and general amnesty for the hundreds of Black youth who were arrested during the April 27 rebellion following Grey’s funeral.
Other important demands included the end of a five-day curfew and the immediate withdrawal of thousands of gun-carrying National Guard troops called out by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to occupy the Black community.
Not even the presence of the police and the Guard at McKeldin Square could quell the militancy of the crowd.
The May Day march attracted a multinational crowd of more than 10,000 mainly young people, including children, who took to the streets following a brief gathering and rally at McKeldin Square. The square was the site of the Occupy movement’s two-month occupation back in 2011 and is designated as a free speech zone.
In 2013, a historic march of 10,000 people demanding justice for Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old African American murdered by vigilante George Zimmerman in 2012, was also held at McKeldin Square before the assembled masses took over City Hall for four hours.
The May Day march for Grey, the 25-year-old African American tortured to death by six Baltimore police officers, was the largest organized since the one held for Martin. The protesters spontaneously marched to a nearby prison complex, which is presently incarcerating the youth arrested during the April 25 demonstration, those allegedly taking part in the April 27 rebellion, and those arrested subsequently for curfew violations.
Among the many signs in the crowd were ones that read, “Our youth are not thugs and looters.” These messages countered the racist, demonizing labels that the mayor, the police and the media are using against rebellious Black youths.
The march then continued on to Pennsylvania and North avenues on the West Side, known as ground zero of the rebellion, where the crowd had swelled to at least 15,000. There was so much jubilation in the air.
It was at this site on April 27 that a CVS drug store was liberated of goods denied to the Black community, a community that has been decimated by a lack of jobs, water shutoffs, and inadequate food, housing and other necessities of life.
As Colleen Davidson, a leader of Baltimore’s revolutionary youth group Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST) and an eyewitness to the rebellion, wrote, “Men, women and children were coming into the stores with empty hands and leaving with bags and boxes of the basic necessities of life. Food, drinks, toilet paper, baby food, diapers, etc. — all things that they never had free access to under capitalism. Children were getting their first pairs of new shoes and coming out of the stores smiling with fruit and candy.
“Community members came together and took as much as they could to give out to the people, especially the elderly who weren’t able to come out. This all was happening at the end of the month, as food stamps are running out, the stamps being a grudging form of assistance which has already been reduced by the ruling class to the point where most people in cities like Baltimore are hungry and desperate.” (workers.org, April 30)
The five-hour march ended at City Hall. There, hundreds of youth stayed at City Hall to hold a speakout and discuss whether to conduct a civil disobedience action to break the curfew, which officially began at 10 p.m. and ended at 5 a.m.
At approximately 9:45 p.m., a group of 90 youth sat in a wide circle discussing civil disobedience to the curfew. Steven Ceci, a PPA organizer who was a part of this group, told WW, “Fox News reporter Geraldo Rivera waded into the group picking fights. At exactly 10 p.m., without warning, police charged into the group, beating people and arresting 50 youth.”
Since martial law was established on April 28, the right to habeas corpus has been suspended, meaning that the police and local officials can hold protesters in jail for an indeterminate amount of time without the right to a hearing or an attorney.
On May 2, the Baltimore PPA and its supporters from other cities joined community residents at Presbury and N. Mount streets in West Baltimore, the corner where, on April 12, Grey was videotaped being dragged to a police wagon. There, the demonstrators held a short rally followed by a several-mile march of hundreds to City Hall to join thousands for a rally protesting police brutality. People had travelled from New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania to join the march.
At the May 2 march, the police viciously attacked protesters and arrested those who defied the curfew. The arrests included legal observers and medics. The curfew officially ended on May 3 as growing protests and challenges to it were intensifying and the monetary losses of local businesses forced to close early were skyrocketing. The governor announced that the national guard will be pulled out in increments. Sharon Black, a volunteer organizer with the PPA, told Workers World, “It is crucial that we keep the pressure on to demand amnesty for all arrestees.”