Baltimore, MD–Two weeks after Freddie Gray‘s death at the hands of police officers, friends, relatives, and supporters of the 25-year-old Baltimore man took to the streets on Saturday to demand justice on his behalf.
Gray is considered by many to be the latest victim of what several activists are referring to as a nationwide pandemic of police killings of Black men. He died on April 19th while being treated in a hospital for spinal injuries sustained while he was handcuffed in police custody on April 12th.
Since that time, his loved ones and community residents have expressed outrage. Those close to him allege that he died as a result of being beaten unnecessarily by officers from the city’s Western precinct while authorities are denying the charge.
The Baltimore police department, like many large cities across the United States, has been accused of having a long track record of racial profiling and the violent targeting of African American men in particular.
Community activist Kenji Scott told us that Gray’s death is nothing new in Baltimore and that police have been increasingly brutalizing Black men over the past four years. “Since 2012 we have lost four Black men to police brutality,” Scott said. “The difference is all of them were brutally [beaten] to death.”
Gray’s death, as in the cases of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Walter Scott, has drawn nationwide attention.
During Saturday’s long demonstration, over two thousand people swarmed the streets of downtown to let their voices be heard. This was perhaps the largest demonstration the area has seen in years. Seeing demonstrators swarming the streets could easily remind any observer of an invading conquering army. Only in this instance, however, the footsoldiers’ most potent weapons were signs, bullhorns, and voices all demanding “Justice for Freddie Gray” and other victims of alleged police brutality.
While walking on the march route, hostility toward police officers was heavily sensed by onlookers and overtly expressed by residents. During the protest, you could hear such familiar phrases as “F— the police!” and “Jail killer cops!”
Video of Freddie Gray’s arrest. TRIGGER WARNING: POLICE BRUTALITY
Although the march, which ended in a rally right in front of city hall, was co-organized by several organizations, including the NAACP and local activists, it was primarily led by Malik Zulu Shabazz, head attorney for Black Lawyers for Justice and Carl Dix, spokesman for the Revolutionary Communist Party.
During the rally, Shabazz, told audience members to present their demands “before the world.” He also mentioned President Barack Obama‘s role in the current crisis of Black male killings by officers.
“Mr. Obama, many of these brothers and sisters and these people who are here are not just here from Baltimore but also from all over the country,” Shabazz said. “We see black men dropping like flies. We see black men shot down and killed in New York, Ferguson, Ohio, South Carolina. We see this all across the United states of America.”
Shabazz then said that the president should have been in attendance. “You are everywhere but where you need to be which is amongst the suffering of your people.”
He then admonished former Attorney General Eric Holder for what he felt was his inadequacy in dealing with rogue cops despite his efforts to reform police departments across the nation. “You did not prosecute one police officer while you were Attorney General…you let Darren Wilson off the hook,” Shabazz said. “You indicted the Ferguson police department but you let Wilson go scot-free. You didn’t do your job, Mr. Holder.”
Regarding Hillary Clinton’s 2016 bid for the White House, Mr. Shabazz warned, “These are your Black Democratic voters. If you don’t take a stand on police brutality you shouldn’t get one Black vote.”
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake didn’t escape the controversial lawyer’s verbal wrath either. When Shabazz mentioned her name “boos” could be heard from the crowd. “How can you be the mayor and over the police department and not even get a report from them?” he asked.
As of yet no police report has been submitted to her office.
Dix, who is a Baltimore native, also addressed the thousands of justice-seekers, “They are killing us not just here in Baltimore but all across the country,” he told the crowd. Dix has been a long time advocate against police brutality. He referred to the police killings as a “concentration of an overall program of suppression” and as a “genocide”.
As the program progressed, Freddie Gray’s cousin, Quran, addressed the gathering. “I know he’s looking down on us right now smiling and just shaking his head…at the end of the day, we are for Freddie. We appreciate all of the support and the different organizations. We can’t lose focus here. ”
He reminded the audience, “This is not about self-promotion. This is about the problems we’re going through in our community and Freddie.”
Other programs related to Mr. Gray’s case and others like his are scheduled to take place in the upcoming days.