For more than a year the family of Tyrone West, a 44-year-old African-American man who died in a police confrontation on July 18, 2013, has staged a protest and rally each Wednesday night in front of City Hall and/or the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office.
The protests have been mostly small, but the action in Ferguson, Missouri following the police killing of Michael Brown has lent new urgency to the effort. Last night's rally drew several dozen supporters and more than a dozen police, who cordoned off the parking lot in front of City Hall as if the demonstrators posed some kind of threat.
"Hands up/ Don't Shoot," the group chanted, led at times by Duane "Shorty" Davis, a regular at protests since his own arrest in February 2011 for setting a toilet down in front of the Towson courthouse. Authorities claimed they thought it was a bomb.
Tyrone West's mother, sister, and two cousins were front and center, telling the crowd again that city police "murdered him for no reason" and chanting "cell blocks for killer cops," and "brick to brick, wall to wall, the police department must fall!" People held signs with photographs of several of the police involved in West's death. "Alex Hashagen Baltimore City Killer Cop," read one.
The officers looked on impassively while a police helicopter hovered above.
David Anthony Wiggins, a candidate for Baltimore City Sheriff, harangued the mixed-race crowd gathered in front of the monument to "Negro Heroes of the United States."
He compared police to the soldiers who massacred the Vietnam village of My Lai in 1968, and to soldiers in Nazi Germany. He said police have "no regard for the Constitution at all" and are "psychopathic killers."
Zara Hamm said she had been attacked by police in Lexington Market for preaching. She said she was a former Black Panther: "We weren't about anything violent," she said. "We were about feeding children."
Abdul Salaam told again the story of his beating by officers Nicholas Chapman and Jorge Bernardez-Ruiz, two of the police officers who, 17 days later, helped end Tyrone West's life. He was in the driveway of his home when police took him down, kicked him and punched him in front of his 3-year-old son, he said. Salaam said he tried to get his family members to join him at these protests, but they don't come. "Don’t invite me to any barbecues or get-togethers," Salaam said, as if addressing his absent kin. "If you won’t come out when I invite you to something important."
Salaam is suing the police department over the incident.
He turned to the police standing 20 feet behind him, behind galvanized steel barricades. "I love ya," he said, "You cops, I want to love you, but I can't. We're asking for everyone to be held accountable, not just the people without badges."