For the second day in a row, NewsOne traveled to Baltimore to get a deeper sense of the happenings on the ground in the aftermath of Monday’s explosive protests across the city. In comparison, there was calm in the streets and a general feeling of goodwill among citizens. However, that was several hours before the 10 p.m. curfew that went into effect Tuesday night.
The epicenter of the protests and related activity remained at North and Pennsylvania Avenues, yet much of the activity shifted from clashes with police, to residents and volunteers cleaning up debris from the sidewalks. Unlike Monday, there was a visible reluctance from residents in speaking with members of the media. We approached several people who declined to offer comments on recent events.
Rev. Dr. Jamal H. Bryant, who has been recognized for organizing clergy and activists alike, announced an “emergency summit” at his Empowerment Temple church to give a platform to residents in voicing their thoughts on the death of Freddie Gray and the subsequent protests. Joining Rev. Bryant was an estimated 500 leaders across all faiths, continuing much of what we saw on the ground Monday at New Shiloh church.
Shortly after onlookers arrived after the 7:30 p.m. start time, Rev. Bryant called some of the faith leaders onto the sanctuary stage and held an interfaith opening prayer. From there, Rev. Bryant opened the floor to visitors, but elected to focus on older citizens and the youth. One young woman, who lost two close family members to violence, was in tears explaining that her guidance counselor at her high school wouldn’t recommend her for college scholarships. She tearfully explained that getting an education was paramount in changing the landscape of the city she loves.
Another young woman, with a toddler in her arms, was equally emotional as she raised her voice asking for the church body to help her and others in providing mentorship. With both young women, Rev. Bryant called for members of his congregation to assist them personally. Each of the individuals given microphone time all echoed a similar sentiment that Baltimore is a city in need of healing.
The event wasn’t without its snafus, as sound issues and a general lack of a solid agenda gave way to a freewheeling, loose discussion on strategies. On this panel, the National Of Islam’s Conrad Muhammad and activist Deray Mckesson offered passionate and sound assessments of the situation despite a lack of direction in the line of questions from Rev. Bryant. There was also significant criticism of the media, especially mainstream news outlets that neglected to aim their cameras at more peaceful efforts, instead of the sensational images of damage and destruction.
Even more telling was a common refrain for men to get more involved, which came across somewhat awkward considering the overwhelming presence of women in the audience. That was balanced by the women who did speak with eloquence and maintained a clear focus on their varying but related messages.
Racing against time and the curfew, the summit shifted into high gear when media personality and speaker Jeff Johnson took the microphone. With an upbeat delivery, Johnson delivered his thoughts with emotion and challenged Baltimore citizens and activists to forge stronger bonds in the coming days. We also spoke with St. Louis activist Johnetta Elzie, who has worked in tandem with McKesson, and was asked about her thoughts on this makeshift strategy session.
“It’s too soon for strategies, people always want that to be immediate,” she said. “That will come but first, we need to get some people into some rooms and get them on the same page before we try to implement any strategy.”
Elzie also supported the response of the youth in the past days and said that it was necessary given how Black youth in urban environments are targeted and victimized by the authorities sworn to protect them.
Rev. Bryant joked several times about the curfew, but many came to find that it was indeed serious business.
Traveling to North and Pennsylvania Avenues once more, a gathering crowd began to flood the streets along with the media throng and various onlookers. Just before 10:00 p.m., Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings announced over a police loudspeaker pleas to the crowd to disperse. Rep. Cummings was met with several expletives from the crowd, and some of them began advancing towards a line of National Guard and police troops in riot gear. According to numbers given at the Summit, over 2,000 National Guard and 1,000 police officers were on call.
Around 10:10 p.m., police helicopters announced over speakers orders to the media and crowd to leave under threat of arrest. This only served to agitate the crowd as they began moving further up North Avenue. With the standoff reaching a fever pitch, police fired gas into the crowd, which caused some to run off. Driving further down, several people in gas masks and covered faces made their way up the block towards the police.
The situation grew tense and quickly unpredictable, with at least six Baltimore police cars rushing to the area as a dense cloud hung over the neighborhood. On our way out of the city, we spoke with Kenny Henson of East Baltimore, who said he came to the area to see “history get made.”
“I grew up here and this isn’t ain’t even my part of town, but I couldn’t miss history get made with all these young folk fighting against the beast that kills them,” he shared.
Rev. Bryant made an interfaith call for clergy and community leaders to meet 3:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon, May 3, at City Hall.
For more information on the Freddie Gray protests and uprisings in Baltimore, visit NewsOne’s hub, here.