By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent
BALTIMORE (NNPA) – Friday afternoon was clear and cool enough for a light jacket, although most people wore T-shirts and shorts in Baltimore, Md. The Inner Harbor and much of city hall grounds were barricaded with low metal gates and by 6 pm, the Inner Harbor was free from the lively weekend energy that a normal spring Friday after work crowd would bring. National guardsmen milled about, weapons down, some with stern gazes others talking in hushed, but relaxed tones.
Waiting for a CNN interview at City Hall, Neill Franklin, the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of current and former members of the criminal justice system that advocates for drug policy reform, said that the Baltimore city police officers charged Friday had multiple attempts to render aid and they failed to so even though Freddie Gray requested it.
“I’m not surprised, this is business as usual, unfortunately for many of the neighborhoods in Baltimore city,” said Franklin. “This time someone died, which has brought the attention to this type of behavior of our police officers.”
Franklin said that in 2005, after Baltimore police officers arrested more than 108,000 people, the state’s attorney’s office was forced to vacate roughly 20 percent of the arrest without filing charges because there was no probable cause for the arrest, similar to what happened with Freddie Gray.
“Hopefully, this is a turning point, I hope it is, but I think the Fraternal Order of Police missed an opportunity today,” said Franklin, referring to a statement that the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) made shortly after State Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced charges would be filed against six police officers. “They can still say we support our officers and their families, but at the same time they should have said and yes we want to partner with you community to figure out a path forward to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
Franklin said that he feels bad for those police officers standing in the wings who want to to good and who are thinking maybe this is a turning point.
“Then you have the FOP say this nonsense,” said Franklin.
Franklin said that he hopes that residents come together with city officials and members of law enforcement to do an assessment of the police department, body-worn cameras and ways to protect officers who want to come forward when they witness fellow officers behaving badly.
Jhanee Braswell, 26, a resident of Baltimore’s east side, said that Baltimore needed the riots and the national media attention because the policed officers simply don’t care.
Braswell said that she was surprised that the state’s attorney’s office filed charges so soon. So many people get shot and killed everyday.
Braswell said that this is just another situation where things would have blown over without the cell phone footage of Gray’s arrest and the riots last Monday.
The last time Braswell was in a paddy wagon was for fighting downtown. All three times Braswell was in the paddy wagon, she said that a police officer walked her up the steps and secured in the back of the vehicle.
“I’ve been in the back of a paddy wagon and there’s no way that you can do all of that, because it’s too small to jerk yourself around like that to hurt yourself,” said Braswell.
That’s why she believes that either Gray was injured before he was placed in the wagon unsecured or that transport officer was driving erratically and contributed to Gray’s injury.
“I’m kind of glad that they did start a riot and they did start all of that stuff,” said Braswell, even though she recognized that residents like her will likely foot some of the bill for clean up and to repair the damaged properties via tax dollars. If they hadn’t burned the CVS and looted businesses, Braswell said, no one would have been held accountable for Gray’s death.
“I hope [the officers] go to jail and that this won’t be a recurring thing, because everyone should be treated fairly,” said Braswell.
“If your protocol is to walk the person up into the paddy wagon and sit them down and make sure that they are secured safely,” then you have to do that for everyone, because everyone deserves the same treatment, because their safety matters, Braswell said.
Rev. Jamal Bryant, the pastor of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, said it was a great thing for the city of Baltimore and the Black community to turn on the nightly news and see the mug shots and names of the six police officers involved in the wrongful arrest of Gray that ultimately contributed to his death, said Bryant.
“I’m excited about the new page that American history is on,” said Bryant. “All these cameras out here is the fruit of the work of the people that marched day and day out,” said Bryant motioning to the myriad camera crews and news tents that littered the grassy mall in front of city hall.
“The national news media came, because Freddie died if he had lived and walked away with a cane or on crutches or [rolled away] in a wheelchair, they would have swept it away,” said Bryant.
Bryant added that the fact that Gray’s arrest and anguished screams were caught on camera as police officers dragged him to the transport vehicle also contributed to the national news coverage.
“It was too eerie and too out of order,” said Bryant.
Police in Baltimore need body cameras right now and turned on with audio, said Bryant, adding that he didn’t understand why the city was still under curfew on Friday.
“I’m confused and perplexed why the Inner Harbor closed at 6 pm,” said Bryant. “There’s nothing open on Light Street. There’s nothing open on Pratt Street.
“It says that there is a reduced expectation of the civility of Black folks even in victory,” said Bryant. “You think if the [Baltimore] Ravens had won tonight they would have shut it down? No. Because Black people won they don’t know how to respond, because they are used to us losing.”
Cars horns blared some in support others in frustration over the hundreds of people gathered at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and W. North Avenue The burned out CVS was boarded up and police officers in riot gear blocked the street adjacent to the CVS. Some people danced others held “#BlackLivesMatter” signs. The crowd was very diverse as all ages, races and ethnic groups were out celebrating Mosby’s announcement and calling for police reform.
Timeeka Addison, a resident of Southwest Baltimore who works at CEASE (an acronym for “Communities Engaged and Advocating for a Smoke-Free Environments”), an organization that helps residents to stop smoking, danced in street with friends and said that the curfew should have been lifted sooner.
“We should be able to celebrate all night long, this is a victory,” said Addison. “There’s no need to shut the city down right now.”
She doesn’t believe that if people hadn’t looted the stores and burned buildings and police cars that Mosby’s announcement would have been the same.
“People have been marching for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s sad that it happened, I’m upset that it happened, but it needed to happen,” said Addison. “Everywhere else that this happens it just goes away, [officials] brush everything under the rug and say, ‘just take what we do.’ Baltimore actually made a statement and said, ‘We’re not just accepting that. You have to do something.’ Everybody said that, ‘You did it Ferguson, you did it in Florida, you can not do that here.’”
Follow Freddie Allen on Twitter at @freddieallenjr.