FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

Baltimore Protesters Call for Peace and Justice After Chaotic Night of Riots

The atmosphere Tuesday in Baltimore was remarkably calm, with Nation of Islam members serving as a "buffer zone" between police and protesters.
April 29, 2015, 1:50am
Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

After a chaotic night of looting, arson, and rioting, the atmosphere today in Baltimore was remarkably calm, with hundreds gathering to say they want the world to hear a message of peace and justice from the city, not fires and property damage.

Community members spent the day at the intersections of Pennsylvania and North Avenues protesting, chanting, taking part in drum circles, marching, and talking about their quest for justice and the plight of their community.

Advertisement

"We need a rebirth, a transformation," Aziza Minor, a Baltimore native told VICE News as she watched the gathering after helping to clean up debris from the riots. "If we could come together like this when it's not a tragedy, we could change things. Everyone out here now is supporting one another, coming together. It's beautiful. This really unfortunate catalyst was this death but people die everyday here."

Photo by Colleen Curry

Minor said the neighborhood is severely neglected — there is no grocery store and the vacancy rates are sky high — and the community members don't have a way to change things.

"It's sad, so much more can be done in this neighborhood," she said, noting that residents are "used to it."

"They don't have a voice. It's below poverty. It's no different from a third world country except it's in the USA," Minor said.

Several groups coalesced for a march around the neighborhood, chanting "Justice for Freddie Gray," and "All Lives Matter." At one point, the marchers shouted down a vehicle that crossed their paths, throwing water at it and yelling at the driver to turn around. Other protesters chided them, shouting "No! No! Stop! That's what they want us to do."

Backed by an array of military-grade vehicles, a line of police officers in riot gear stood across the road for the entire day blocking access to one end of North Avenue, but conflicts between cops and protesters were insubstantial. A line of police surged forward toward the crowd at one point in a confrontation that sent protesters running in all directions and briefly raised tensions in the area, but the cops retreated and the crowd reformed.

Advertisement

A second line — this one of community members — formed in the afternoon to separate police from the gathering, emphasizing that there would be no clashes between the two. Many of the intermediaries identified themselves as members of the Nation of Islam and said they wanted the image the world saw of the protests to be one of community members standing together, not police in riot gear.

Photo by Colleen Curry

"It's part of our responsibility as men in this community to stand for positivity," Ryan Johnson, one of the men lined up in front of police, told VICE News. "We don't want the news to capture images of police in riot gear, we want them to capture images of us standing in solidarity, playing music, dancing.

"We are simply here to make sure what happened last night doesn't happen again," Johnson said.

Terrence Smith, another volunteer in the line, told VICE News they were there to serve as a "buffer zone" between the police and the demonstrators.

"It gives people a chance to talk to police, to vent, to say things, without getting too close, without getting in trouble," Smith said.

The men said they were there to enforce calm in the area, though tranquility seemed to prevail without their assistance.

Tension and anger were occasionally palpable as groups argued about police brutality, minimum wage, and the lack of black-owned businesses in the community. But people also joined together to sing the gospel song "This Little Light of Mine," and a performer did elaborate Michael Jackson dance routines. A group of musicians set up in front of a church and sent jazz notes drifting up the street.

The crowds remained at the intersection as night fell, hours ahead of the 10pm curfew imposed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake after the mayhem that enveloped the city Monday night.

Minor, the Baltimore native who attended the protests earlier in the day, said she hoped that protests would not turn violent in the evening, but she wasn't confident they would stay calm.

"There are a lot of people who have been hurting, and they have been hurting for years, and it's a combination of things — neglect, negligence, I know there is harassment in this neighborhood," Minor said. "People feel a whole lot of different things, and it's not just going to be calm because the cops say so. For some, it is their opportunity to talk. To have a voice."

Follow Colleen Curry: @currycolleen