On Saturday, August 8th, Baltimore joined others across the nation in commemorating the first anniversary of Ferguson and the death of Michael Brown by holding a march, hosted by the People’s Power Assembly group. It began at 3 pm on Pennsylvania and North Avenue and ended at the People’s Park on North Charles Street. Though initially a separate march was planned for Sunday, the People’s Power Assembly joined forces with the Baltimore Trans Uprising and joined the marches into one day to draw more people.
As someone who is fairly new to Baltimore, the events last April showed me a side of Baltimore that I didn’t expect. It’s a small city, but houses tremendous life. It has it’s fair share of crime, but also families, art, music, activism and corruption. The events leading up to the riots and the aftermath of these events showed that if Baltimore (and the nation) wants to see a change, everyone needs to get behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
I was hesitant to attend the march for many reasons, including the fact that I didn’t see what good I could do. Talk about Baltimore had died down. Could I really do anything? Was it right for me to take part, as a white cis female? While I support the Black Lives Matter movement, I hadn’t been able to make it to every protest. But, this was an important one, one to add my voice to, help increase the numbers to make sure that those who were silenced could be heard. Just because the media doesn’t cover it, doesn’t mean that there aren’t still people fighting for the cause and it doesn’t mean that Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, as well as so many others, are forgotten.
The march assembled on North and Penn, right across the street where the CVS had been burned. The store front was still boarded up, with scorch marks circling the sign. I wondered how long it would take for them to fix it or if it would even be rebuilt at all.
For about 30 minutes, several people spoke into a microphone. When I arrived, Reverend Cortly “C.D.” Witherspoon was talking about Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. Witherspoon is a Baltimore activist who has been in news headlines speaking out against police brutality. He argued that what had happened in Baltimore was not a riot.
“The police brutality was a riot, Baltimore was an uprising.”
He went on to say that this march was necessary because we were fighting for not only Michael Brown, or Trayvon Martin, but for a solution and an end to police brutality everywhere. The corrupt politicians and police officers didn’t want to make a change, so it was going to have to be the people to force it.
A young man from the area, spoke about how, at first he didn’t want to show up today because he felt like they had sat down for so long that everything had died down, but then was reminded it wasn’t too late to stand up for his city.
Next, a representative from the People’s Power Assembly spoke, saying that they were advocating for the hiring of police officers who were actually from the communities they worked in, rather than the surrounding counties. This argument is one I’ve heard a number of times. Many of the Baltimore police come from suburban areas that are fairly removed from Baltimore. City residents don’t know them and, therefore don’t trust them. For a real change to happen, police officers need to start walking a beat in the neighborhood, getting to know its residents so that a level of trust can be built. Hiring police officers from Baltimore City would be an important movement towards progress.
Right before the march began the Reverend spoke again, saying, “If black lives don’t matter, then all lives don’t matter.” He talked about how crime in white communities is never called on white-on-white crime, while crime in black neighborhoods is always identified by race. He also said that deaths like Brown’s and Martin’s didn’t happen because of irresponsible parenting, as many seemed to think, but due to a racist system. He drew a picture for the crowd of how difficult it is to be poor and have to worry about feeding your family. He connected poverty to crime, noting, “We can’t get by internalizing our own depression. Turn around and tell them you are shooting down our brothers and sisters. Put the millionaires behind the bars where they belong.”
Meanwhile, Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis was talking to press, surrounded by protesters and residents who were listening to what he had to say. Davis was recently appointed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake after she fired Anthony W. Batts. He explained that he was there to acknowledge the anniversary of Brown’s death, saying, “My presence hopefully makes a statement.”
What struck me was how this had become such a united front. Many of the speakers didn’t just talk about the black men’s lives lost, they also spoke about the women’s lives lost due to police brutality and the trans lives lost, due to continuous violence. This was an inclusive event, filled with people who realized they needed to join forces instead of just fighting their individual causes because, as much as they were separate, they also affected each other.
As the march was assembling, there were around 30 people there, but as we began walking, the numbers grew to at least 40 or 50. The Reverend and several others led chants on the microphone. The chants weren’t only about Fergueson, Freddy Grey, Michael Brown and Travyon Martin, they included chants for Sandra Bland, the woman who was murdered in her cell after being arrested for failing to signal when changing lanes. As well as chants for trans lives lost, like India Clark.
By presenting a united front, the march spoke to the overwhelming issue of police brutality and violence that harms black men and women, as well as those of the trans community. Seeing the large number of diverse people in attendance showed if we came together, we could start a movement. Maybe even someday soon, a revolution.
The march headed to Martin Luther King Boulevard and Howard Street where we stayed for 9 minutes of silence, the number of minutes the police let Michael Brown’s body lie in the street. Traffic was held up, police had surrounded the area and a helicopter circled around, telling us to leave, that we were disrupting the peace. The Reverend was fighting to be heard over the voice from the helicopter and one or two people tried to drive through the crowd. People moved out of their way, even though they were driving slowly. I worried about getting hit by a car and what was going through people’s minds as they were waiting for us to move. This was important because it made people think about what was happening, if not in their direct world, in the world around them. If it made people annoyed or frustrated, it was good to remind them what that feels like. I wonder if we had been there for longer than 9 minutes, whether the police would have arrested us. They seemed restless and worried as they talked to each other and directed the light rail as it pulled up at the spot right next to us. After 9 minutes, the march continued to North Avenue.
Many protesters spread out, blocking the streets. Cars slowed down to avoid them, many honked in support. One man stopped completely and apparently irritated by the disruption, said something to incite a protester, who started yelling at him through the window. Fellow protesters began standing in front of the driver’s car to prevent him from moving. Immediately cops began swarming the area, one with a video camera in his hand. Protesters also began to back track, pulling out their cell phones to record a potential arrest. Seeing the number of protesters with phones or maybe realizing it would be difficult to arrest him, one officer told the other talking to the protester to back away. Eventually they did and the march continued. Moments like this remind me that while social media can have it’s faults, it has the ability to put power back into citizen’s hands.
We ended at the People’s Park, on North Charles Street, near North Avenue, where a meeting was held for the People’s Power Assembly. People spoke for 4 minutes each. A representative from the Assembly talked about the amendments they were trying to pass. They were reasonable, increasing the minimum wage and allowing citizens to elect the police commissioner, and not having them appointed. And although this event was marked with pain, frustration and anger, it also contained hope and ideas for the future. This fight against a racist system is momentous and difficult, but if enough people stand up, they can create an avalanche.