Baltimore protesters charged in overnight City Hall demonstration
Protests come as troubled city looks to make interim police commissioner permanent
The overnight sit-in at Baltimore City Hall by young, mainly black activists exposed the deep divide between the government in this troubled city and a population that has been feeling increasingly marginalized.
As many as 50 protesters, some of them teenagers, disrupted a meeting Wednesday night where city officials were recommending the interim police chief be permanently hired. The activists said they were upset at their lack of input into the appointment, six months after the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who sustained mortal injuries while being transported in the back of a police van..
Gray was one of several young black men whose deaths at the hands of police over the past year sparked the Black Lives Matter protest movement, which has become an issue in the U.S. presidential race.
In Baltimore, Gray's death led to protests and riots and galvanized many who say their city's government has long ignored their pressing needs: safe housing, better schools, a less confrontational police department.
"We're trying to hold the police accountable. Our voices are not being heard and that's disgusting," said Tawanda Jones, whose brother died in an encounter with police in 2013.
All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray- Baltimore protesters at city council meeting
The protest erupted with activists chanting, "All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray!" at the end of a city committee hearing about whether to hire Kevin Davis as the permanent police chief.
Davis took the interim role in July after predecessor Anthony Batts was fired amid a spike in violent crime in Baltimore following Gray's death.
The group called for a sit-down meeting with Davis and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and refused to leave until officials agreed to meet a list of demands that included better treatment for protesters, a significant investment in public schools and social services and a promise that police would avoid using armoured vehicles and riot gear. The protesters also asked that officers always wear badges and name tags.
Davis tried to defuse the situation.
"I'd like to propose this to you, because we can accomplish a lot more at a table where we can all fit," he said.
"You have our demands, you let all your supporters speak," someone in the balcony yelled back.
"I will be more than happy to meet with your entire group," Davis said.
"Now! This is the space where we can talk," someone yelled back.
Davis eventually left.
Police kept the demonstrators sequestered in the balcony.
After several hours, some of the demonstrators left after being threatened with arrest, they said.
About 4 a.m. Thursday, the demonstration ended with at least 12 of the remaining activists led off in plastic handcuffs and loaded into transport vehicles
Police said they charged 16 people, including three juveniles, with trespassing.