All sixteen of the protesters who were arrested after they occupied the city hall in Baltimore were released on Friday. The coalition of protesters, made up primarily of young adults, were prompted by the murder of Freddie Gray and ongoing civil rights abuses and violence by the police against citizens of Baltimore, especially among people of color.
In total, about three dozen protesters had occupied a balcony area of the Baltimore City Hall after a city council hearing on Wednesday in which it was voted to approve the permanent appointment of Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. The coalition of Baltimore area groups, calling themselves “Baltimore Uprising,” includes (but is not necessarily limited to) members of Youth as Resources, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, The West Coalition, City Bloc, Baltimore Algebra Project, Baltimore Bloc and Black EXCELLence.
Lawrence Grandpre, the director of research at Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle Baltimore, a youth-led think tank and advocacy group and who, according to Newsweek, describes himself as an adult ally to the youth who organized the protest summed up some of the issues the protesters were seeking to address:
“When there are potentially minor infractions in the process of people expressing their First Amendment right, instead of engaging these people in dialogue, they feel that during the short reign of the interim commissioner the police now escalate it to arrests,” Grandpre explains. “[The protesters] first demand is for the commissioner to change his policy about aggressive policing of protesting.”
“What we have is police who cannot delineate between a peaceful protest and someone targeting them, because they haven’t had the training. I think the young people wanted a dialogue. They want substantive engagement,” he adds.
In addition to taking issue with Davis’s policing, Grandpre notes the protesters took issue with Baltimore’s housing commissioner. Grandpre says the protesters also take exception to a plan to build a detention center for youth charged as adults. He argued that the funds would be better used for programs meant to engage the community and prevent young people from falling into the criminal justice system in the first place.
“This isn’t just about Commissioner Davis. This is about a larger system of injustice,” Grandpre says.
The coalition had made several demands, including that Commissioner Davis and Mayor Rawlings-Blake meet with them to discuss their complaints, as well as an increase in funding for education.