On Saturday night, following the violence that broke out near Camden Yards, a photo of me supposedly protecting a woman from violent protesters surfaced on BuzzFeed and then trickled down to the conservative armpit of the internet where it was mischaracterized. In the photo, I look strangely heroic, and the picture was quickly co-opted by those who like to present an all-too-common and easy narrative: white people being terrorized by black people.
The truth, or as much as I have been able to cobble together from my own memory and notes, videos online, video I shot, and videos from City Paper’s Managing Editor Baynard Woods, is far less interesting, though much more important than “white dude saves white lady.”
I’m not exactly sure how the violence broke out around 6 p.m. in front of Pickles Pub on Washington Boulevard and traveled up the street to The Bullpen, Sliders Bar & Grill, and Frank & Nic’s West End Grille then down Howard Street. I know a small group of protesters and a small group of baseball fans started whipping bottles at one another and brawling. When the protesters turned the corner onto Washington Boulevard from Camden Street chanting “black lives matter,” some baseball fans applauded and a few angrily chanted back, “We don’t care”—someone who worked at The Bullpen confirmed this for me. He also said that some patrons chanted “run them over,” and one yelled “go get them.” Other protestors, including City Paper contributor D. Watkins and gang members interviewed on WBAL, recall bar patrons calling them “niggers,” among other racist epithets.
I don’t know who threw something first, but I heard a shift to jeers and boos from the people drinking and ran right over to it and saw beers being tossed from behind a gate that keeps Pickles drinkers from standing in the road and bottles being whipped back at the drinkers. Some people at Pickles stood up and moved toward the protesters though they were protected by the gate. Then, protesters pulled away the gate protecting Pickles customers from the street. Men from Pickles and elsewhere charged toward the protesters and the protesters charged the Pickles customers. It was at this point that I stopped being a journalist and became someone who was trying to help out.
A young woman from the bar threw a stool at me and others, and then affected a “come at me bro” stance. At the same time, many protesters were trying to tell the ones who were fighting and throwing things to stop causing trouble and keep moving. Some protesters began to grab bags of peanuts from a small stand and throw them at the people at the bar. The woman who threw the stool got hit in the face with a bag of peanuts and she went down. I helped her back up.
I retreated and noticed another woman from the bar, who earlier had thrown a chair (see video here, 11 seconds in), was now following the group as it moved up Washington Boulevard, pleading with them to stop. I ran up to her and told her to get back. She pushed me away, which is both a reasonable response to someone screaming at you and also a completely bizarre response to someone who is telling you to go inside, you’re going to get hurt.
At some point around here, a fight started in front of Sliders. Protesters and bar customers were fighting. The videos show people on both sides who wanted to fight and were excited to fight and embraced the opportunity.
The pleading woman followed the protesters up to the bar Frank & Nic’s. She was reaching out at people and yelling. I stopped her from walking toward a protester who was throwing a chair at a window, and that’s when the picture was taken. City Paper contributors Caitlin Goldblatt and Gianna DeCarlo were also talking to the woman at this point and a protester with a big bag and a bottle of vodka that he clearly stole from one of the bars (it has a pourer on it) approached her. That’s where we got the image of a protester, who was most certainly looting, who looks like he’s stealing a purse, but I was there and I’m really not sure if that’s what is happening.
In part, it also seems like it was a failure of security, who didn’t stop customers from jeering at the protesters. I was also told by employees at the bars that they had a discussion beforehand about how bad it would be if O’s fans who “every game, drink way too much” encountered protesters. The protesters who got violent weren’t from “out of town,” by the way. Some of their faces were recognizable to me as people who had been with the protests. Here were drunk, angry, white baseball fans and bar-goers who were equally guilty for the violence that happened that night and embraced the chance to fight and provoked some of it, and any accurate narrative must acknowledge that and barely anyone has acknowledged that. If you’d like to call Baltimore County whites and Boston Red Sox fans “outside agitators,” then you’ve got your outside agitators.
A widely circulated Facebook message and picture
A tweet from City Paper contributor D. Watkins:
Some of the Oriole fans who got their asses whipped this weekend were taunting protesters , calling us “Apes, Niggers and Monkeys”— D. (@dwatkinsworld) April 27, 2015