'It Is Our Duty...': Dispatches from a week of anti-Trump protests

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On Wednesday night in front of MICA's Fred Lazarus IV Center, Tawanda Jones held the 172nd installment of West Wednesday, a weekly event dedicated to her brother Tyrone West—who was killed in police custody in 2013—and to all other victims of police brutality. But Jones also addressed the current election, locally and nationally, and stared down the next four years.

"Organizing is about us sticking together, it's about us really shutting shit down," Jones said. "And excuse me—I don't use potty words unless I really feel some type of way—and when we say we're gonna shut things down, we really need to do it."

After Jones' protest, MICA hosted a panel inside the building to coincide with its current exhibit titled "Baltimore Rising." The Baltimore Uprising-informed art (including photos from City Paper Photo Editor J.M. Giordano) formed a powerful backdrop for the conversation featuring Jones, author and professor Lester Spence, Baltimore Bloc's Ralikh Hayes, activist DeRay Mckesson, and writer D. Watkins (a CP contributor).

The conversation was supposed to be about the uprising, but Spence, acting as moderator, said that instead they were just going to have "a conversation" where they processed the surprise of Donald Trump's election and what it meant—namely, that white supremacy still reigns, he said. The panelists turned to organizing and what should be done from here on out. Mckesson stressed that Trump-as-clown jokes still persisted and that "this [election] is not funny"; he described the potential devastation of Trump's economic policies and rollback of the steady progress on issues tied to police misconduct. Jones focused on love and solidarity and explained that openness is a driving force behind her West Wednesdays event and urged others to organize similarly. Watkins encouraged the kind of one-on-one focus of helping others that informs his work in schools in Baltimore. Hayes promoted thoughtful, pointed organizing, pressing activists to focus even more on the LGBTQ community, which will be even more threatened with Trump in office.

While Trump is terrifying, panelists pointed out, the U.S. has never been a country for black men and women. This is a fight black people have been fighting for a long time, Trump's election perhaps magnified the racism or just laid it out more plainly for white liberals and other allies. The event ended with Spence asking everybody on the stage and in the audience to stand and close their eyes. Then, he quoted Assata Shakur—"It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains"—and then quoted her again. And then one more time, with a crack in his voice, as if he was about to cry. (Brandon Soderberg)

By the following night, Thursday, activists were already organizing a large protest that would snake through downtown Baltimore. The anti-Trump march, a wild-eyed wake after the previous evening of quiet mourning, drew nearly 1,000 people, mostly college-aged with many new to protesting. It was similar to marches simultaneously going on in large cities across the country, though this also felt distinctly Baltimore, backed by core local activists who've been organizing in this capacity since November 2014, when the city walked in solidarity with protestors in Ferguson. As the crowd chanted "Fuck Donald Trump," others answered with a musical "Ayyyy" between each line, adjusting the joyous Baltimore Club "down da hill" chant for dark times ahead.

Marchers began in Station North, walked to the Inner Harbor and then to M&T Bank Stadium and back. The protest, organized by Kaila Philo (a former City Paper intern) via Facebook, began at 20th and North Charles streets at "the People's Park," an empty lot often used as a gathering point for protests put on by the People's Power Assembly. The PPA assisted with the march along with members of grassroots collective Baltimore Bloc, who according to a group statement, "deployed" specific members to assure safety and organization, including Bloc member Payam, with some help from veteran activist (and artist/chef/homeless advocate) Duane "Shorty" Davis. All of them were there to assist Philo, who was new to organizing, and who had started the event on Facebook the day before and suddenly found herself navigating the biggest protest the city has seen since April 2015.

While one person would be arrested that evening, the march was pointedly peaceful, so much so that so that some especially incensed marchers scoffed that it was a bit "corny" in its dedication to nonviolence. On the Facebook page for the protest, which was quickly over run with pro-Trump comments and hate speech, Philo encouraged marchers not to bring signs that expressed violence toward Trump ("Nothing advocating for violence and no 'KILL TRUMP' signs. Sends a v bad message that endangers protestors," she wrote). At least twice, City Paper observed marchers gently checking other marchers who knocked over signs or seemed ready to cause a little trouble.

Early on, as the march approached Penn Station, Lt. Kenneth Stanley began yelling at marchers in the road, telling them to get on the sidewalk, and randomly pushing and shoving some of those in the street. One marcher, Carlos Martinez—who does social media work for Green Party mayoral candidate Joshua Harris and senate candidate Margaret Flowers, volunteers for Jill Stein, and was live-streaming the event—was tackled by officers moments after he chanted, "The whole world is watching" at Lt. Stanley.

Martinez was handcuffed and held to the ground ith a police officer on his back. Marchers surrounded the police, shouting, "Love Trumps hate," and Flowers who asked what Martinez was charged with never received any explanation.

"The cops placed handcuffs on me and told me I was under arrest," Martinez said a few days after the march. "I asked for a medic, asked for what I was under arrest for and no one could tell me."

Eventually, Martinez was taken to the hospital and let go without any charges. He thinks he was targeted because he's "a dark-skinned Hispanic" and because he was recording the police.

"If I had been a dark-skinned Hispanic without the infrastructure around me, they would have gotten away with this," he said. The police were "doing whatever they fuck they felt like because they can." (The next day, Public Information Officer Jeremy Silbert of the Baltimore Police said the department was conducting an internal investigation regarding this incident outside Penn Station.)

Moments after Martinez was tackled, activist Shorty Davis reclined in the road—an affront to the seemingly random enforcement of who was arrested for being in the street and who wasn't.

Not long after, a man who was not with the protest was briefly handcuffed and questioned after someone "reported to police that he threatened protestors," Silbert said the following day via email. Silbert added that "after an investigation and speaking with witnesses in the area, officers released the man." Several protestors claimed that the man reacted to protestors who surrounded his car by getting out of his car and pulling out "a blade." Silbert said police did not find a weapon. The man was let go.

As the crowd neared M&T Bank Stadium, police arrested activist Stephanie Applegate and charged her with "failure to obey a lawful order." Those who saw the arrest said police grabbed her from behind after passing many thers walking in the street to focus on her. She was the only arrest of the night.

There was a lack of communication between the police and the marchers. After the initial detainment of Martinez, just a few minutes into the march, marchers were especially distrustful. When the protest moved away from the Inner Harbor and toward the stadiums, police swarmed and tried unsuccessfully to create a line to stop the march. The tactic only scattered and scared the groups, with marchers splitting into small sprinting clusters as they moved around and between the officers.

This was a moment, with a shift in rules, when the protest threatened to devolve into chaos. And the chaos continued for the next 20 minutes or until the group made it to M&T Bank Stadium where a Ravens game was set to begin. As the game's opening fireworks were set off and the National Anthem played, the group coalesced near football fans still making their way into the stadium, briefly forcing stadium officials to close the gates. At the gates of the stadium, Officer Kevin Watford was quick to separate and silence football fans who yelled pro-Trump slogans and "grab her by the pussy" at marchers.

Still, a Ravens fan punched a high school student who was protesting in the head after she bumped into him. Baltimore Bloc members took her to the hospital where she was checked for a concussion—she didn't have one, just a lot of bruising.

After holding their ground at M&T and in front of football fans, the marchers began moving away. Briefly, organizers conferred in a circle.

Let's go back," Philo finally decided. As the group left M&T Bank Stadium, there were cheers—they'd done it and gotten away with it relatively unscathed.

"Keep the pace," Payam yelled to those in the front, encouraging them to slow down, thereby slowing down the 800 or so behind them as they moved toward Camden Yards and then back downtown.

"This is where we lose them," Shorty warned Payam. It's after things get dicey that people get sloppy and comfortable or suddenly decide to wild out.

They didn't lose them.

Not long after, a young protestor who had been passionately standing at the front of the march attempted to take the protest up Hopkins Place toward Southwest Baltimore. Shorty told the young man about the obligation to the group at-large.

"I'm responsible for all of them," Shorty said. "I got to get them back to Charles Street where this started."

The young man said he was responsible for himself only, and later explained that over in Southwest, "there's hella Muslims that wanted to march, too." Others told the young man to "trust Shorty." The young man wasn't having any of it and muttered something about how the only thing he trusts is "his forty"—his gun.

Nevertheless, the young man, who wouldn't give his name and said he marched in the early days of the Freddie Gray protests, stayed with the group and was one of many who added a party-like edge by leading chants. As the group moved back toward Charles North, "not my president" ricocheted off the buildings on each side of Charles Street along with other chants including, "No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here" and "We reject, the president elect—fuck Trump."

At the Ynot Lot where the march ended, the thousand or so stood triumphant and cheered as Shorty and members of Baltimore Bloc tossed bottles of water out to the thirsty, tired group. A sing-along of Kendrick Lamar's 'Alright' spread across the lot—"We gonna be all right/ We gonna be all right..."—and the anti-Trump protest was over. (Brandon Soderberg)

On Friday afternoon at City College High School, as a hundred-plus students skipped their last class of the day and convened in room 150 to ponder a Trump presidency, Lamar's mix of police brutality spleen-vents and Christian words of encouragement blasted from speakers. It was a gathering organized by Nevan Edwards, Afiya Ervin, and Tobias Gilliam, class of 2017 members of City Bloc, a collective of City students against social injustice.

"Because of the sadness, we wanted to do something that was positive and uplifting," said Edwards, just an hour so after the gathering wrapped up, in front of City College High with Ervin and Gilliam nearby. "So we played music like Kendrick Lamar to make people feel better."

"The plan was to give our classmates a place to talk about how they feel, educate them about their rights," Gilliam said. "And to discuss the way to navigate through life in a Trump presidency."

They began thinking about it on the morning of the election—"Like, at 3 a.m. we're texting, 'we should do something,'" Edwards said—and continued into the next day, where City students and teachers all seemed at a loss.

"We came back to school on Wednesday and it was a really unproductive day," Gilliam says. "People really couldn't do work, teachers were on the verge of crying in front of their classes."

"I remember looking at a meme or something, so I was smiling on my phone and then someone who was walking past me said 'That's the first smile I've seen today' and that was like third period so that's like 9:30-ish," Ervin says. "So like, getting up in the morning, on their commute on the way to school, all through the morning of school, they had only seen one smile the entire time. That's when it hit me that this is really a lot."

Both Ervin and Gilliam briefly joined Thursday night's anti-Trump protest. They were both at their jobs, they admit, and ran out for a moment when protest passed by and then ran right back to work. Edwards was at an event hosted by the Towson Freedom School, discussing prison abolition.

While students were still gathering in classroom 150, listening to Kendrick, the fire alarm went off. None of them know for sure who did it, but it sent the group onto the front lawn of City College instead and allowed most of the school to bear witness.

When organizers heard the fire alarm, they pondered locking the door of room 150 and staying put but Edwards gathered the students and instead they marched out to the front lawn repeating the Assatta Shakur freedom chant: "It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains."

What followed was an hour or so, multi-location testimonial of anti-Trumpness with Edwards returning to Assatta Shakur's freedom chant throughout as the students entered a circle and spoke and then handed the circle over to someone else: "[Donald Trump] is not for us, he against us"; "He's gonna take all the food stamps away, so my people can't eat"; "The more you keep [marching] the more chances we got for Hillary to be our next president"; "Little girls were so excited to live in a country with the first female president in that country and now they're going to have to spend four years growing up in a country with a president who views women as nothing more than a sexual object"; "I want to ask all these fucking politicians who run this goddamn country, what is the point of our voting system?"

"The point of it was for people to speak their mind and kind of use it as a forum," Edwards said.

"Every single comment, even if they were sad or upset that Trump is president it was like, 'We can uplift each other," Ervin said. "We can come together in our own communities and help each other." (Brandon Soderberg)

On Monday, hundreds of students staged a walk-out protest at Towson University organized by Towson's faculty-led Social Justice Collective in conjunction with student groups. The walk-out urged students to leave their classes at noon to protest against bigotry, racism, and the country's president-elect.

John Gillespie, a student activist and the founder of Towson Freedom School cried out Assatta Shakur's freedom chant and hundreds chimed in. The students congregated in Freedom Square, a space on-campus activists have used frequently over the past year. Student and faculty speakers alike shared stories of discrimination, institutional racism, and systemic mistreatment, in addition to sharing words of hope and urging action.

"I just want to say to every person who has hate in their heart...we're not going to welcome you here," Student Government Association President Taylor James said.

Also on the mind of those who gathered was a Facebook post from last week by Towson student July Thompson that was widely shared online. In the post, Thompson said she was told that "a few white guys" had followed two black students on campus while repeatedly calling them racial slurs. University police and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion are investigating the incident.

"Today, I'm asking the entire Towson community to feel the pain of some of our most vulnerable students," anthropology professor Nicole Fabricant told the crowd. "To walk around in their shoes and then think differently about teaching, about education and what about this moment means for faculty, for staff and for our students."

"An overwhelming amount of white people chose to vote for Donald Trump, and what that says is you as a white person hate me so much, hate poor people so much, hate Muslim people so much, hate reproductive rights so much, hate mental health rights so much, that you decided to vote against your own well being to see that I do not have rights. Right?" student and activist Bilphena Yahwon said. "That's exactly what occurred. Let's call it what it is." (Sam Shelton)

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