Baltimore rises up for justice, against inequality

The day of the funeral, the night of the riots in Baltimore, people thought of 1968. That year Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and the unrest unsettled Baltimore.

The day after the riots, when the Maryland National Guard arrived, people thought of 1972. That year another National Guard was called out in another state and four people were killed.

"This is not just about excessive force or police brutality. Ferguson wasn't about that either. This is about problems — poverty, racism, inequality — tangled deep in America's roots. These are old issues we've fought before and maybe will fight forever," said protester Mike Bartlett, who joined in the Baltimore Uprising that followed the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal spinal injury in police custody.

Gray, a black man, died a week after he was chased, pinned, handcuffed and placed in a police van. In the van, police maintain officers placed Gray in leg cuffs after he became irate. But it is still unclear when and how Gray suffered the spinal injury.

A prosecutor announced on May 1 charges against the six police officers involved in Gray’s arrest. The Justice Department, meanwhile, is investigating possible civil rights violations.

Gray's death on April 19 sparked a series of protests that became explosive after his funeral on April 27. Demonstrators looted stores, damaged property and injured as many as 20 officers in unrest that resulted in 201 arrests.

On April 28, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and the National Guard was dispatched to Baltimore for the first time since rioting following King’s death in 1968.

A state of emergency went into effect, with the city under a 10 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew and public schools closed.

Still, protesters returned to the streets.

They made formal demands, calling for a thorough investigation and indictments of the officers responsible for Gray’s death and state and local reform of law enforcement.

And they made broader appeals for change in a city with high unemployment, high crime, poor housing and lack of opportunity in many neighborhoods.

“What is needed is for all of us to take a step toward each other and come to terms with the crisis of inequality that has brought our city to this moment,” said Michael Coleman of United Workers, a human rights group in Baltimore.

In solidarity

Solidary marches and demonstrations — many under the banners “Black Spring protests” and “Black Lives Matter” — occurred in cities across the country, including Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Milwaukee.

“The uprising in Baltimore … has delivered an unmistakable and powerful message that the time is over when people will just take the unending and outrageous murder and brutality carried out by police,” said Carl Dix, co-founder of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network based in St. Louis. “From North Charleston, South Carolina, to Ferguson, Missouri, from Pasco, Washington, to New York City and beyond — this must stop.”

The Black Youth Project in 100 helped organize an action in Chicago, warning, “What is happening in Baltimore is not an isolated event. This did not start today, or yesterday or last month or with Ferguson or with Rodney King.”

In Milwaukee, activists remembered Gray and others, as they demonstrated on May 1 for justice, jobs and immigration reform in an annual May Day rally and march.

“Freddie Gray’s death is a tragedy of national scale,” said SEIU Local 1 president Tom Balanoff in Milwaukee. “Not only did his death affect his closest family, it shook our entire country. The American family finds itself yet again brought to its knees, but also outraged as another black life is lost while under police custody. America will never truly thrive as a nation until every human being is respected and every community and neighborhood has equal opportunity to succeed.”

Maria Hamilton, the mother of Dontre Hamilton, an unarmed black man killed by a Milwaukee police officer on April 30, 2014, addressed the ralliers, as did immigration rights activists and human rights advocates.

A march also took place in Red Arrow Park in Milwaukee on the anniversary of Hamilton’s death. Organizers said the march and rally — there was a balloon launch — celebrated Hamilton’s life.

“We’be been trying to be as positive as possible,” said Nate Hamilton, Dontre’s brother. “We haven’t been trying to let our anger dictate what we do and how we act.”

Dontre Hamilton was shot 14 times by Christopher Manney, who was not prosecuted in Hamilton’s death but was fired for not following police department procedure when he initiated a pat down of Hamilton.

Manney is expected to continue to fight his dismissal and the family is considering legal action.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department continues to investigate Hamilton’s death and the Milwaukee Police Department has field tested body cameras and is in the process to purchase equipment for 100 officers.

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