Gang members at a community meeting in Baltimore on Monday night said there was no truth to the Baltimore Police Department's claim that gangs were uniting to "take out" officers or stoke violence at the protests.
At a meeting and press conference held at New Shiloh Baptist Church, which has served as a headquarters for the protests, the attorney representing the family of Freddie Gray, Bill Murphy, pointed to a group of young adults he described as gang members and said they attended the meeting to dispel the rumors they were seeking to kill police officers. "That was a false alarm cooked up to divide the city even further," said Murphy.
Later, a group of self-described Bloods and Crips told the press they were accustomed to being falsely labeled as violent thugs — but were actually attempting to keep the peace at the protests.
Earlier in the day Baltimore police had released a statement claiming the Bloods, Crips, and Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) had made a pact to kill officers, and warned law enforcement agencies to be on alert.
The individuals described as gang members at last night's meeting did not give their names, and looked away from the cameras focused on them, but nodded in agreement with Murphy's statements.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts was asked about the claim of the gang threat shortly after the meeting at New Shiloh. He said he did not think that the riots that broke out throughout the city on Monday were gang-related. "I don't think it was connected to gang activity, I think these were youth getting out of school who thought it was cute to throw cinder blocks at police," Batts said.
But he repeated the assertion that "the Black Guerrilla families, the Bloods and the Crips had a meeting, and each group was intending to kill, to take out a police officer." The Baltimore police, when asked this morning whether they still believed the gang threat was credible, said that "at this point, it's still the same," but that the department was working to release updated information to media about the claim.
Another group of self-described Crips and Bloods gave an interview to WBAL on Monday night and condemned the police accusation in even stronger terms. "We want to tell the people of Baltimore city that the image they're trying to portray of gangs in Baltimore, of the BGF, the Bloods, Crips, we did not make a truce to harm cops. We did not come together against the cops. We're not about to let ya'll paint that picture of us," a man dressed in a red-checked shirt and red hat, told the station.
The group said they had been helping to keep the peace at protests Saturday and all day Monday. A photo that members of the Bloods, Crips, and Nation of Islam took posing together on Saturday at a peaceful protest went viral Saturday night, with some captions saying it showed the gangs uniting to take out cops.
"They've been portraying us in this way for so long," said a man dressed in blue. "The point we're trying to get across is that we are of different factions that… can come together as a unit and be unified and peaceful. When a group of 30 Bloods walks up on group of 30 Crips, and everyone salutes and shakes hands hugs and then everyone starts to take pictures, they say 'Oh no, now they're uniting to kill cops.' They won't tell you the good side of what we're really doing in these communities."
The group said they were seeking justice for Freddie Gray peacefully, and the riots only made them look bad — though they did understand the rioters' frustrations. "We've been out here all day trying to prevent people from breaking into the stores, they hit us with bombs, they burned my shirt, ripped it," another gang member told WBAL. "But we came back and we held hands together, and marched together, and we're still holding strong. We want them to stop hurting us so we can live our lives and keep going."
The man dressed in red said only around 30 gang members had been present during Saturday's protest. "Stop believing everything you hear in the media. If you were not at that protest on the day we protested for Freddie you don't know what actually happened," he said. "Out of all the thousands of people that were down there, you mean to tell me that you're going to point the fingers at us, because we have colors on? No, we can't have that."
Follow Colleen Curry on Twitter: @currycolleen
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