Activists Return to City Hall to Defend the Right to Protest
As protesters disrupt Police Commissioner Kevin Davis’s confirmation hearing, City Bloc organizer and high school student Makayla Gilliam-Price says the right to protest must be defended
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: The struggle over the right to be heard continued today as Baltimore youth activists again disrupted a city council hearing over the hiring of interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.
SPEAKER: I move the nomination favorable.
NOOR: The council approved Davis’ contract by an overwhelming majority, with just two members voting no.
SPEAKER: This nominee is confirmed.
NOOR: Just minutes after the vote, the protest began. Activists, who were escorted out of council chambers, left City Hall and proceeded to block major thoroughfares downtown, backing up traffic during rush hour. Protesters say Davis has cracked down on civil disobedience since taking over the job from his predecessor Anthony Batts. With the trial of the six officers charged with killing Freddie Gray set to start in late November, the conflict over the right to dissent has revealed deep fissures between the community and police, which is why activists say they want to ensure free speech is protected.
Monday’s action took place five days after 16 people were arrested after occupying City Hall, with demands including Davis meet with them, the mayor, fire housing commissioner Paul Graziano, and the city allocate an extra $20 million towards public education. In a written statement released Monday, Davis said he met the protesters over the weekend to discuss their concerns, and said steps were taken to “ensure a better flow of communication.” And he says he looks forward to a constructive and productive relationship moving forward.
Activists say after meeting Davis they revised their demands for rules of engagement between police and protesters. But Makayla Gilliam-Price, who was arrested at Wednesday’s action, says Davis didn’t hold up his end of the agreement.
MAKAYLA GILLIAM-PRICE: Because Kevin Davis, who has agreed to the demand that was specific to him and the 19 points that were sub-points below that, has neglected to publicly state that. Which is extremely significant because that means that he cannot be publicly held accountable.
NOOR: Activists with groups like City Bloc and Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle say it’s necessary to protect civil disobedience, so citizens can demand reform of the police force and challenge policies that have fueled mass incarceration, the drug war, housing segregation.
GILLIAM-PRICE: So those, all of those systematic issues are very large and very hard to combat when they’re not tied down to concrete solutions, right, and that’s what our demands strove to do. Protecting the rights of peaceful protesters means that people will be able to draw his attention to those smaller instances of systematic racism that he will then be able to combat on a smaller level. And so it’s like all of our demands serve as a prerequisite to fighting all of those large, systemic issues which he has not been able to solve.
NOOR: From Baltimore, this is Jaisal Noor.
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