Activism Politics

Protesters Occupy Baltimore City Hall Overnight

BruceEmmerling, pixabay
Written by Ethan M. Long

At least 16 protesters were arrested and charged with trespassing early this morning after a group of protesters collectively known as Baltimore Bloc occupied Baltimore City Hall. The action began during a City Council meeting in which a vote was held to decide whether Interim Commissioner Kevin Davis was to be appointed permanently. Community advocates voiced their concerns, citing aggressive policing of protesters under Davis. Their demand was that the people of Baltimore must have a say in this process, not just those in power.

In the video, Davis said he would be happy to meet with the protesters at a later time. When it was demanded that that time be “now,” those in the chambers could be heard shushing the protesters.

After the disruption at the City Council meeting, Davis told the Baltimore Sun that “It’s part of the whole process. It’s not upsetting. It’s part of where the city is right now, this is a unique time in the city’s history.”

Refusing to leave the Council Chambers, the activists staged a sit-in until the city and police department cooperated with them. It became apparent after a few hours that the police were not letting protesters use the bathrooms, nor were they allowing them access to water or food.

In the early hours of the morning, police moved in and arrested the protesters who refused to leave after multiple warnings.

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“After hours of communication and warnings, a small number of protesters inside of City Hall decided to leave the building,” the Baltimore Police Department posted to their Facebook. “The remaining protesters refused to leave the building. As a direct result of their failure to comply, the remaining protesters have been arrested and charged with trespassing. There are no reported injuries at this time to any protesters or officers.”

According to the Associated Press, supporters were already protesting for the release of those arrested in front of City Hall as day broke.

“We need to protect life over property. We need to ensure that non-violent protest is permitted,” the group wrote on their website last night. “To achieve this, we need agreements and accountability.  Residents need to know who is making decisions and law enforcement must have one central command.”

The post, as well as last night’s action, is the culmination of months and months of organizing and solidarity between groups in the city who have had enough with the way the city has responded to its citizens. For example, they point out that they’ve seen cops acting as agent provocateurs,  “undercover cops acting as protesters carrying firearms,” which was reported in September after the arrest of activist Kwame Rose during a pretrial protest. Rose told the Associated Press early in the morning that Davis has yet to meet with community organizers.

“The politicians, they failed us today,” Rose told the AP.

Baltimore Bloc’s statement, posted on their website, gave reason for the demonstration at this particular hearing:

“It is clear that since Kevin Davis took office as interim Police Commissioner there has been a heightened aggression from Law Enforcement towards protesters. Now the Mayor has nominated Kevin Davis to carry the full responsibilities as Commissioner. This is most troubling to community organizations and members as we exercise our First Amendment right to hold elected and appointed officials accountable for their actions. It is for this reason that we demand that interim-Commissioner Kevin Davis adhere to the following demands in the police department’s handling of protest in Baltimore.“

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The group listed 19 suggestions to help “maintain community safety,” including, first and foremost, “The protection of property is always secondary to the protection of human life.” They stress that all law enforcement officers must wear the badges and name-tags that identify them. “Specialized riot gear will be avoided except as a last resort,” they wrote.

The next suggestion is that “Crowd control equipment such as armored vehicles, rubber bullets, and rifles will not be used. Tear gas may only be used as a last resort to the protection of human life.”

Baltimore Bloc stated that the interference of information through limiting cell service or internet access needs to stop, as well as “interception of cell or other mobile conversations or unwarranted wiretaps.” They then call for pinpoint accuracy on arresting individuals who break the law, instead of mass arrests.

They address the need to provide safe locations for protesters where they won’t be in fear of violence from the police department: “Safe houses shall be considered sacred ground and only entered by police when called upon or if extremely necessary. We will provide a list of places we would like to serve as safe houses. Only entrance to the safe house will be with a warrant.”

Another tactic used by police departments has often been to arrest or detain members of the media as well as those trained to observe the protests for groups such as the NLG or ACLU. Baltimore Bloc demands that they no longer be considered participants, and that they “shall be allowed to do their jobs freely.”

For those who need to get to work and have had trouble during previous actions, Baltimore Bloc demands that law enforcement make every attempt they can to “provide alternate routes or other means for non-involved persons to get to places of employment and meet other transportation necessities.”

One of their demands relates to last night’s action, as they demand that “police commanders will allow protests to take and occupy larger and more disruptive spaces than would normally be tolerated, and will allow occupation of those spaces for longer periods of time than would normally be tolerated in the interest of constitutional rights.”

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The next couple points are aimed at every-day beat-policing, including that cops should have “clear standards of professionalism and sound community friendly-policing will be maintained and adhered to at all times,” and that “police will be instructed to be more tolerant of minor law breaking.” They also add that a thrown water bottle does not give them the right to escalate the situation, “treating protesters as citizens and not ‘enemy combatants.’”

A clear and to-the-point clause states that “excessive force and other forms of police misconduct will not be tolerated.” Then, “Intimidation and harassment of protesters will not be tolerated. This includes pretextual pedestrian or traffic stops, contacting of employers or family members, pre-emptive arrests or detention of ‘leaders,’ publishing of private information and any other means of intimidation and harassment.”

They call for reasonable bail and reasonable hold times, with right to medical care and right to attorney. When protests seem to be escalating, they demand a channel of communication between the different levels of command right to community liaisons. “Police will provide to the public information that makes clear the chain of command, who is making what decisions and the processes for deciding when the police response will be escalated.”

Finally, they demand that “Every attempt should be made to communicate with protesters to reach ‘common sense’ agreements based on these protocols, both ahead of time and at the scene of protests.”

A bail fund has already been set up for those arrested in the early morning hours. While he was confirmed by the city’s executive appointments committee, the full City Council will vote on Monday. Davis has yet to meet with community organizers.

For their part, the Baltimore City Police Department’s Facebook page congratulated Davis on the confirmation of his appointment in committee prior to the vote that was disrupted.

Source: Associated Press

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About the author

Ethan M. Long

Ethan Long is a journalist based out of Boston, MA.

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Protesters Occupy Baltimore City Hall Overnight

by Ethan M. Long
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