Freddie Gray: legal volunteers among those arrested after defying Baltimore curfew

  • Around 50 people arrested on Saturday night after rally at city hall
  • Anger spreads over treatment of different neighbourhoods

Legal observers and medical volunteers were among around 50 people arrested in Baltimore on Saturday night, as another evening of protests over the death of Freddie Gray ended in yet more clashes as protesters attempted to defy curfew restrictions.

Gray died a week after he was arrested on 12 April, then handcuffed and shackled in the back of a police van without a seatbelt.

On Saturday night two volunteers, who identified themselves as belonging to the National Lawyers Guild, were seen by the Guardian being arrested alongside four street medics outside the Baltimore City Correctional Center.

One of the legal observers was wearing a bright green cap emblazoned with her organisation’s name – caps which have proven useful for protesters seeking legal advice during this past week.

As police were seen handcuffing the volunteers, a seventh man walked past and was apprehended, after one officer with a handheld stun gun asked him where he was going. The man had said he lived in the neighborhood and was on his way home.

The arrests happened less than 10 minutes after the start of the curfew.

Concern has spread over how the Baltimore curfew has been applied. On Saturday Deborah Jeon, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, issued a statement which said: “At this point, it is being used to restrict the first-amendment rights of protestors, legal observers, and the media, and is engendering needless tension and hostility.”

The arrests outside the building on Greenmount Avenue stood in contrast to the police’s treatment of curfew-defiers in Hampden, a predominantly white neighborhood in northern Baltimore.

Earlier in the day, a group of activists had called for a “silent curfew protest” which they said was intended to highlight the police’s differing treatment of protesters based on race, and to expose the police’s “anti-black racism, an institutionalized practice of the police force and government”. They were mostly white.

A video tweeted out by activist Deray McKesson – a Baltimore native who was a prominent figure and organiser at the Ferguson protests last August following the death of the unarmed black teenager Michael Brown – showed police officers trying to reason with the assembled crowd at Hampden.

Y'all, listen to this. You must. This is the 3rd warning. An additional 5 minutes. #BaltimoreUprising

— deray mckesson (@deray) May 3, 2015

“The last thing I want to do is put someone in handcuffs,” a white police officer told the crowd, before issuing a last warning and asking them to “please leave”. According to several accounts on social media, this was the officer’s third warning to the group.

Also among those arrested on Saturday night was Joseph Kent, the 21-year-old activist who was seen last week getting “kidnapped” live on television. Kent’s lawyer, Steve Beatty, confirmed on Twitter that his client had arrived at Baltimore central booking station. It was the second arrest for the Morgan State University student in connection with the Freddie Gray protests.

Thirty people were reportedly arrested at the intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenues. A protester wearing a “Fuck the Police” T-shirt appeared to be pulled to the ground by police and pepper-sprayed.

Video shows a man being arrested in Baltimore.

Kent had been in a large group of protesters at the intersection between Pennsylvania and W North avenues, the focal point for much of the week’s demonstrations. Wearing a T-shirt with a photograph of himself at the scene of his previous arrest, Kent chanted with a group of roughly 200 people and gave out the phone number for a legal advice helpline. He then led some of the protesters away from the intersection, blocking traffic as they went along.

#josephkent leading protest down Pennsylvania ave

— Raya Jalabi (@rayajalabi) May 3, 2015

Earlier on Saturday, two thousand people participated in a rally at City Hall. Under the spring sunshine and to the sound of Public Enemy’s Fight the Power, protesters listened to speakers ranging from young organisers to politicians.

Many of the demonstrators later moved back towards the Pennsylvania and North intersection, where they were greeted with a “Party for Peace”. Protesters danced, grilled burgers and chatted with local police officers.

The seemingly arbitrary nature of the curfew’s enforcement has led activists to voice their concern that the curfew was targeting poor black communities unevenly.


— supergrover (@fuzzlaw) May 3, 2015

The curfew has also forced local businesses to close at 10pm since it came into effect last Tuesday.

Kirby Fowler, the president of the Downtown Baltimore local business association, said the number of people affected by the drop in business in the area could reasonably be in the thousands.

“It’s not just business owners who are being impacted,” Fowler said. “It’s waiters and waitresses and dishwashers who depend on tips to support their families.”


Raya Jalabi in Baltimore

The GuardianTramp

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