Five Years After Freddie Gray Riots, Baltimore is the Model of Peaceful Protesting

Posted: Jun 02, 2020 8:00 AM
Five Years After Freddie Gray Riots, Baltimore is the Model of Peaceful Protesting

Source: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Baltimore, Maryland – The streets of Baltimore bled with rage just five years ago after the death of a young black man, Freddie Gray, in the back of a police vehicle. Now, as violent rioting and looting own the night in several cities across the nation, Baltimore emerged as the beacon of peaceful protesting. 

As the afternoon sky turned to dusk on Monday, hundreds of protesters converged near the Baltimore Convention Center to march through the city with calls for justice for George Floyd, who was brutally killed by a police officer last week in Minneapolis. The protest, organized by young, local activists included representatives of Black Lives Matter and others advocating for an end to police brutality. 

The protesters burgeoned from hundreds to thousands as they marched through downtown on their way to City Hall. Baltimore City Police kept a respectful distance with an ever-mindful eye out for signs of violence. Cries of "No Justice, No Peace!" were almost deafening as some protestors moved from downtown to Baltimore City Detention Center on Eager St. There, inmates heard the cries of the protestors and some Baltimore police officers knelt on one knee with fists in the air in solidarity with the crowd. 

Over the weekend, images of burning police cars and smashed storefronts from multiple cities commanded headline news. None of those images came from Baltimore, where protesters abstained from violence and disorder almost entirely. Over the weekend, just over a dozen arrests were made in Baltimore with a few reports of looting and some broken windows. Over that same period, more than 200 people were arrested in Philadelphia. 

Police prepared for an escalation of violence on Monday, clearing the city streets of debris and blocking off major roads. But that violence did not materialize the way it did in other places. Only two arrests were made on Monday, late in the evening when those individuals threw lit fireworks at police. Maryland State Police were eventually called in as the size of the crowds grew beyond expectations. But even with thousands flooding the city streets, peace prevailed. 

Less than 40 miles south of Baltimore in Washington, D.C., Sunday and Monday night protests told an entirely different story as D.C. Police and the National Guard were forced to fire tear gas at encroaching crowds in the early evening. In New York, rioters came armed with hammers and bags, intent on continuing the robbery of vulnerable storefronts in the city's most affluent areas. Images of fire and rage from several other cities like St. Louis, MO, and Louisville, KY confirmed that looting criminals masquerading as protestors for "justice" were far from voluntarily ending their reign of terror. 

But Baltimore, notorious for its staggering violent crime statistics, was commended by city and state leadership  for representing the spirit of peaceful protest. 

"Baltimore’s streets have been filled today with thousands of peaceful protesters, who are collectively expressing their First Amendment right," Mayor Bernard "Jack" Young (D) said in a Monday evening statement. "Today’s major protest is youth-led, and I am proud of Baltimore’s young people for continuing to be a positive national example of Democracy in action."

2015 was a very different story in Baltimore. After Gray, 25, died from injuries sustained in a police van during transport, peaceful protests over police brutality escalated into several nights of violence against police, destruction of property, and looting. Baseball fans were attacked by rioters as they entered Oriole Park at Camden Yards and several people were seriously injured. Young rioters laid waste to Mondawmin Mall in West Baltimore, throwing bottles and bricks at police, burning police vehicles, looting stores, and torching a construction site. 

This time, the nation demands justice for Floyd, who was killed when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinned his neck to the ground by the knee until he died. This time in Baltimore, however, instead of rioting against the city and vying for destruction of law enforcement, protestors kept a steady hand and steady voice. Police responded in kind.

"We aren’t out here to destroy our city," Baltimore Pastor Westley West said during daytime march he led on Monday. "We just want our voices to be heard." 

This article is part of a series of reports from the road as Townhall travels around the Acela Corridor this week to assess the health of American cities amid the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic and protests following the death of George Floyd.