Protesters express concerns as jury deliberation set to continue

On Tuesday evening after jurors deliberating in the William Porter trial had gone home for the day, activists, led by organizers from the People's Power Assembly, gathered on the sidewalk outside Courthouse East downtown.

Rev. C.D. Witherspoon spoke to a group of mostly television reporters, noting that it was this kind of protesting, in his opinion, that kept this trial in Baltimore and kept Marilyn Mosby on the case, referencing the perceived victory during the motion hearings back in September.

He highlighted that what was happening in front of the courthouse was also democracy in action. Frequently, sheriffs politely ordered protesters to make room for people to get through and were quick to tell media where they could and could not stand, though also made clear they were not trying to get anybody to stop protesting.

Witherspoon also hit on many of the PPA's talking points. Namely, that what occurred in April was "not a riot but an uprising," and stressed that protests are not simply about police brutality but in protest of poverty, poor living conditions, and the resources diverted from neighborhoods like the one where Freddie Gray grew up.

"It's connected because it's all part of structural racism," he told reporters.

Representatives of groups including City Bloc and Baltimore Bloc were on hand not only to make their voices heard on the Porter trial, but what they describe as a buildup of riot police around the city.

"We already see that, even before the verdict is out, there are police with armored vehicles, with riot gear in Druid Hill Park," Makayla Gilliam-Price said.

Gilliam-Price was part of a group of protesters who in October held a sit-in and were arrested at City Hall as part of a campaign to demand police adopt a policy of de-escalation when it came to demonstrators.

"I feel like I've been holding my breath ever since the trial has started, just because I don't know what the response is going to be," she said.

Gilliam-Price anticipates one of two possible responses if Porter is acquitted of all charges: Given that there are a total of six trials, some Baltimoreans may not be concerned with a not-guilty verdict for Porter given the possibility of a different outcome for the other officers. Alternately, she said, there could be "immediate tension, and sparks will start to fly."

Activist Tariq Touré (who has contributed poetry to City Paper) said the heightened police presence, and particularly the presence of heavy equipment and officers in riot gear, will have a negative impact on Baltimore's young people, and will not make the city substantively safer.

"How do you expect kids to react when they're already going through low-grade PTSD because they're living in these neighborhoods that have high crime and no jobs, and you come in with a militarized police?" Touré asked.

"Everybody's chilling, except the police," Touré said.

Reflecting on the Porter trial itself, Gilliam-Price said that she's reluctant to second-guess whatever decision the jury arrives at.

"I feel like on some level everyone should be held accountable for their actions, but because I wasn't there, and I know how information can get skewed very easily, whether through media or testimonies, I honestly don't know who's accountable for what," Gilliam-Price said.

Jurors deliberated all day without reaching a verdict. About 3:30 p.m., they told Judge Barry Williams they were deadlocked. He instructed them to continue deliberating, which they did for another two hours before breaking for the day. They'll continue tomorrow morning.

Brandon Soderberg contributed additional reporting

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