Protests following the funeral of Freddie Gray — the 25-year-old Baltimore man who died in police custody after sustaining a spinal cord injury — have largely remained peaceful in the city, but police officers recalling a small bout of unrest Monday are on guard, a police spokesperson confirms to NewsOne.
“It hurts to see people taking advantage of a situation,” Sgt. Jarron Jackson of the Baltimore City Police Department told NewsOne. “You can’t uplift your community by destroying it.”
When asked if his officers were comfortable with using the term “thug” to describe residents and youth of Baltimore, Jackson outlined how he instructs others to differentiate between the euphemism and “protesters.”
“A protester is a person that’s voicing their opinion, their frustration,” Sgt. Jarron Jackson said when asked if his police officers were using the term “thug” to describe residents and youth. “They are doing it in a peaceful manner. They are doing it because they want to elicit change, inspire change.”
“To me, a thug is a person that’s committing a criminal act,” he continued.
But as the city waits for answers in Gray’s death — the investigation was handed over to the state attorney’s office after police concluded their inquiry — residents are baffled by the use of the term, citing Gray’s fatal injuries in police custody and a large presence of National Guard troops decked out in militarized gear and Lenco armored trucks that many describe as “intimidating.”
“The level of respect that the police have…and then there’s nothing done to police when they hurt us,” Baltimore native Clovis Bond told NewsOne.
“The same police that antagonize these young people every day…they instigated and antagonized those kids,” Bond said, recalling clashes between high school students and police Monday afternoon. “And what they weren’t prepared for is what those children brought to them,” she said of police and elected officials who labeled Monday’s demonstrators “thugs.”
Monday night saw 200 plus arrests, a number of stores looted, and numerous building and vehicle fires in one concentrated area of West Baltimore. Protests have remained constant but peaceful in the days that followed, but police presence has bulked up significantly — by Thursday, police decked out with batons, mace, shields, helmets, rifles and gas masks visibly outnumbered a small crowd of demonstrators hugging the intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenues.
When asked about residents’ concerns that police were exhibiting “thug” behavior by intimidating their community, Jackson ensured that his officers wanted to “help the community,” suggesting that the show of force was necessary.
“This is why I became a police officer,” the Baltimore native told NewsOne. “But think about this. There are about 3,000 police officers in the Baltimore City Police Department. Ninety-nine percent come to work every day not knowing if they are going to go to their families at home.”
Jackson had no comment about what appeared to be highly militarized deployment tactics employed Thursday night. A Friday news conference held by State Attorney Marilyn Mosby is expected to reveal information surrounding Gray’s death and the police department’s role.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty