Civil disobedience part of growing movement demanding community input on law enforcement policies
TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN: This is Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. At City Hall last night 50 protesters challenged Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s decision to permanently appoint Kevin Davis as police commissioner. When the protesters refused to leave 16 were arrested, including three juveniles. This is the most recent arrest in a series of clashes between city residents and city officials to determine the future of policing and civil disobedience in Baltimore. It was a hearing to confirm the long-term and lucrative contract of Police Commissioner Kevin Davis that was controversial from the start. PETE WELCH, BALTIMORE CITY COUNCILMAN: I [want this] to be a respectful and [inaud.] hearing. And I will not tolerate demonstrations [inaud.] GRAHAM: A meeting of a body that city residents say has been unresponsive to their needs, which prompted protesters to fill the chambers, and also present specific demands. KWAME ROSE, ACTIVIST: So something needs to change. The people that are affected by these policies and the commissioners and the police brutality, have to [start] being engaged by the [ward], by council members, by the mayor and by the police department. LAWRENCE GRAMPE, LEADERS OF A BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE: The demands were for the police commissioner of Baltimore to rescind his aggressive policing of protesters, first. Secondly that Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano be fired for his 15-year pattern of incompetence and his neglect of concerns in terms of sexual harassment in the Gilmor Homes public housing project. And third that the $20 million being allocated for a new youth jail be allocated instead to community schools and rehabilitation programs for the community. GRAHAM: But after hours of testimony from the commissioner and his supporters activists who wanted to be heard were cut short, offered just three minutes to air their grievances. TRE MURPHY, BALTIMORE ALGEBRA PROJECT: Have they exhausted all other possible avenues in going through the, quote-unquote, proper way to handle business as usual. What we’re saying now is that that has failed. GRAHAM: Which is one of the reasons protesters refused to leave City Hall Wednesday night, an act of civil disobedience which ultimately led to the arrest of 16 people, and adds to the growing movement across Baltimore which is challenging the business as usual ethos from city officials and the heavy-handed policing which has been the norm. GRAMPE: And I think given these folks have tried so hard to engage the political process, and to be treated with such blatant disrespect, shows how can you trust a power system that would do that to such young people in such a traumatic way? Who are so committed to dialog and social justice that they were willing to even go to jail. GRAHAM: Just this week Alkebulan Marcus was facing three misdemeanor charges and criminal record for his role in the Baltimore uprising, decided to fight for his right to dissent in front of a jury. A case during which prosecutors presented hours of evidence and multiple witnesses, but after which the jury quickly found him not guilty. STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: The jury was very quick in their decision. What do you think influenced their decision in terms of your case? ALKEBULAN MARCUS, CHARGED FOR PROTESTING: Well, I think the fact that everybody knew it was an unlawful arrest. It’s just the state proved nothing. The state had nothing to back it up. The state didn’t even answer their questions. GRAHAM: And two weeks ago, Pastor Westley West, who led this protest during the first week of the Freddie Gray trial, was also hit with serious charges. Charges including the destruction of property and false imprisonment he also thinks were another effort to silence the people. PASTOR WESTLEY WEST: I mean, personally I think that they’re trying to keep those individuals that are standing for the community and also being a voice, I think they’re trying to keep them kind of on the hush hush. GRAHAM: But despite the communal concerns, the council gave Commissioner Davis the bulk of the time to defend his strategy thus far, which he says must be a balance between the right to protest and safety. KEVIN DAVIS, BALTIMORE POLICE COMMISSIONER: We’re going to have [inaud.] in the city. We’re going to have the people who pull triggers in [the city]. We’re going to have the people who harm other people in the city. We must demonstrate and [define] a [inaud.] in the town that [inaud.]. GRAHAM: A balance many say has often been tilted towards heavy-handed policing, focused on a community whose concerns until now have been ignored. GRAMPE: There’s a political appetite for a law and order form of policing, which unfortunately produces disproportionate impacts on black bodies. So the desire to be seen as being tough on protesters is being grafted on to what’s seen as the inevitable, quote-unquote, riots, every time black bodies gather to express their opinion. GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham, Stephen Janis, and Megan Sherman reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.
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