Everybody was giving speeches on Saturday—Martin O'Malley, who thinks he can be the next president of the United States, at Federal Hill Park, a hyper-earnest group of pro-police demonstrators down at City Hall, electric-eyed Black Lives Matter protesters at both events, and even the police who threatened City Paper reporters with arrest.
For the most part it was a day of people talking at each other or past one another but there were moments of genuine conversation, though they weren't generally sparked by the speeches. When O'Malley pompously addressed recent unrest, he used it as a way to wander toward a more white-centric "all lives matter"-like message.
"The scourge of hopelessness that happened to ignite" at North and Penn "transcends race or geography," he said, then added, "Witness the record numbers of young white kids killing themselves with heroin in suburbs and small towns across America."
By the time O'Malley had gotten to this point in his speech, a small group of protesters were countering its attempt at universality. Protestor Megan Kenny began walking through the crowd with a "Stop Killer Cops" cardboard sign—Kenny has been holding the same sign since the days immediately following Freddie Gray's death—and others began shouting about the effects of O'Malley's zero-tolerance policies on black lives.
A few O'Malley supporters shouted "shut up" at the protesters and one woman hissed, "You realize he can't hear you, right?" At some point, at least two BPD officers began filming the protesters.
Kenny was quickly confronted by security and eventually police, who told her that if she continued to disrupt she would be removed. A man in a "Carcetti for Mayor" T-shirt yelled that they had no right to silence her, that it was her constitutional right, to which the BPD's Ian Dembrowski said that Federal Hill Park was a permitted area for the rally and entering it without permission was like entering someone's yard.
Although the group, including members of Bmore Bloc, did not disrupt the speech—the press/guest area was too vast to get anywhere near the front—it invited conversation and confrontation that carried over to the pro-police rally a couple hours later.
Following the O'Malley announcement, Bmore Bloc staged a die-in outside of the park and activist PFK Boom spoke into a microphone for about 15 minutes to an audience of 20 or so, discussing the media's portrayal of protesters during the uprising and politicians like O'Malley catering to the county.
A few others protesters paced nearby with signs that read "Fuck the Police" and "No O'Malley," and Kwame Rose, who you may remember as the guy who schooled Geraldo live on Fox News ("I will not let you report lies about the people of this city"), argued intensely with a white woman.
"You've been trying to talk so much, you haven't been trying to listen, whiteness has been talking and projecting itself on black people for 400 years," he told her, to which she responded, "Oh, that'll help race relations a lot." Then, O'Malley supporters called Rose "racist." Soon after, a school bus which had brought O'Malley supporters to Federal Hill arrived to take them back to their cars.
And so, the conversations moved over to the pro-police rally at City Hall. One of the organizers, Lucy Gomez, the wife of a Western District officer, told the group of 100 or so to "be peaceful" and "not engage" if protesters showed up. When three protesters arrived though, they were immediately swarmed by demonstrators who began yelling at them. One punched a protester's sign that mentioned police murders, and cries of "asshole," "blue lives matter," and "we don't care" followed. A protester told the demonstrators they were "racist."
"How can I be a racist when I've got an adopted black daughter," said one of the demonstrators, a retired Baltimore police officer who wouldn't provide his name, saying he feared for his safety. He said be became a cop in 1977 and he had been shot on duty and received a citation for valor. What happened to Freddie Gray, he said methodically, was a "tragedy," but it wasn't the cops' fault. He said it was like a "car accident," and explained that if one were to get in a car accident and a friend died in the accident it would not be someone else's fault. The city's problems begin with "the people up there," he said, angrily pointing to City Hall behind him.
"You might think this is strange coming from a cop," he added, "but I think they should legalize drugs." He believes strongly that legalization will solve many of the city's problems. "I'm just a piss-ass cop [though]," he joked before he walked away.
Talking to him and watching cops on the beat in recent weeks, it was easy to see where he was coming from. Police feel like they are being scapegoated for all of the city's ills, while the city leadership is ultimately to blame.
Although there were many references to "black-on-black crime" and confrontational behavior—including shouts like "you break the law, you pay the price," and, at one point, a man revving his motorcycle up to drown out the protesters (Lt. Charles Thompson told him to stop because that was "not productive")—the pro-police rally was, for the most part, very sincere.
And the county-brewed casual racism of some of the attendees (black people addressed as "you people," for example) is arguably less toxic than the dismissive, high-minded, "I know better" liberalism exhibited by O'Malley supporters. There were at least hints of an exchange of ideas between protesters and demonstrators, especially thanks to the young, engaged activists and a number of women demonstrators who did their best to hear protesters out. A demonstrator named Ruby Atwell and a protester named Gary Johnson spoke extensively about their experiences and even hugged. WBAL cameras in particular, ate this moment up.
That night, WBAL ran a segment about the pro-police rally that mostly focused on Atwell and Johnson, the supposedly unlikely new friends.
"I've learned he's not as angry as I thought he was and I think he learned that I'm not angry either," Atwell told WBAL. Later in the segment, Johnson tells WBAL, "We have to begin to open up a rapport with each other to get anything done from the beginning and from this point on we have to all be dedicated, in my opinion, to not blue lives, not black lives, it's all lives that matter."
Around 12:45, more protesters arrived, including PFK Boom and Kwame Rose ("If all lives matter, we'd be protesting together," he told the demonstrators), and when they arrived, a deeper line of police separated both sides for good and stood with their backs to the demonstrators, only looking at and filming the protesters.
At around 1 p.m. Lt. Thompson approached City Paper photo intern Reginald Thomas II, a young black college student who was shooting the demonstration for the paper. He told him we weren't allowed stand in the square with the demonstrators because it was a permitted area and entering was like being in someone's yard, even if we were press. We were threatened with arrest. A few minutes later when we asked for clarification, Thompson asked if we were "journalist[s] or adversar[ies]" and challenged the validity of our City Paper identification.
We have since asked BPD about the policy, and they haven't fully responded, though Lt. Sarah Connolly of the media relations section did say they have reached out to Parks and Recreation and are "trying to determine what our people were advised regarding press," adding that "for the public in general we were advised the permitted party controls the access to the permitted area."
Other journalists, however, were allowed to stand in the square while City Paper was threatened with arrest and The Sun's Ian Duncan specifically tweeted to us that he was never told he wasn't allowed to be in the square.
Around 1:45 p.m, protesters left and the rally ended almost immediately. Gomez, who also spoke with protester Gary Johnson, thanked him and said she respected his opinion and took down his number ("I'm getting a number, I haven't had that luxury in 30 years," she joked on the mic) then organized a group photo of the day's demonstrators. She then asked the police there to join in, and they did, then called out, "Whose lives matter?" and together, they all answered "blue lives matter" as cameras clicked.