Activists file class action lawsuit against Baltimore Police for actions during last year's #AFROMATION protest

City Paper

Nine Baltimore activists have filed a class action lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department and the state of Maryland related to last year's #AFROMATION protest during Artscape. 

That day, July 16, 2016, 65 protesters were arrested, including a City Paper photo intern, Courtney Hawkins, when the large march, dubbed #AFROMATION, began at Guilford Avenue and Chase Street, moved through Artscape, and then onto I-83.

As City Paper reported last year, the group "proceeded onto the highway, locking arms and briefly blocking traffic as they formed a line stretching across one side of the interstate. Police asked the group to move for an ambulance and protesters obliged, moving to the shoulder, only to see two police vans pull up. There was no ambulance. Police then told the group to move off of I-83, and then they were arrested. Some activists said they were essentially 'trapped' on the ramp and, while not involved in blocking traffic, they were not allowed to retreat once arrests began. Fifty-five adults and 10 teenagers were arrested."

While protest has hardly stopped since the Baltimore Uprising, #AFROMATION, co-organized by Makayla Gilliam-Price, alumna of City College's activist group City Bloc, Baltimore Bloc, Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) Baltimore, and others, was a palpable return to sizable in-the-streets protest.

The allegations include keeping arrestees in "harsh detention conditions," holding them in police vans for hours, providing "little to no access to water, food, toilets, or necessary medication," handcuffing arrestees too tightly, sexual harassment, the taunting and misgendering of a trans arrestee, and the arrest of a legal observer, along with it being, generally, an "unconstitutional and unlawful arrest."

The lawsuit also alleges what was said by many at the time of the protest: That police did not give adequate time for the protesters to disperse once they were on I-83, and that protesters were deceived and told that if they dispersed they would not be arrested. This was not the case.

Among those named in the suit is Commissioner Kevin Davis, and Capt. Charles Thompson, who the suit says, "upon information and belief...was responsible for ordering the mass arrest." CP reported on Thompson back in 2015, when he threatened to arrest myself and then-CP photo intern, current-CP reporter/photographer Reginald Thomas II at a "Blue Lives Matter" demonstration the paper was covering. Thompson also threatened CP freelancer Tedd Henn, myself, and Baynard Woods with arrest at a protest just a few weeks before #AFROMATION, tied to the shooting deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. In 2016, CP gave Thompson a Best Of Baltimore award for "Best Bucking The Trend."

The overarching goal of the class action lawsuit, which seeks more than $75,000 in compensatory and  punitive damages, is to get the Baltimore Police to change policies, the plaintiffs say. A press release put out by Debra Gardner, Legal Director at the Public Justice Center and attorney for the plaintiffs, said: "BPD's targeting of protesters because they exercise their right to free speech to call attention to police mistreatment is unconstitutional, and bad policy besides, in a city where the need for police reform is well-documented and acknowledged. The treatment of those arrested during Afromation was unconscionable. We hope that this case will help ensure that BPD respects everyone’s right to speak out against injustice."

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