Baltimore Protesters Keep Message on Track

          BALTIMORE (CN) – Since the riots on the night of Freddie Gray’s funeral in Baltimore, protests against police brutality, racial and social inequality and poverty have remained peaceful but constant.
     That tradition carried through Thursday as the six officers charged in Gray’s death failed to have a judge move their trials out of the city.
     “I’m here to see justice for Freddie Gray,” said Lee Patterson, his gray dreadlocks reaching down to the middle of his back. “I want to see to [the officers] go to jail for what they did. People are tired of living with the injustice in this city.”
     Gray died on April 19 about a week after sustaining a spinal cord injury while being arrested. Video of the incident shot by a bystander shows Gray dragging his feet while police put him in a van. The police officer who drove that van, Caesar Goodson Jr., is charged with second-degree and depraved-heart murder, among other counts.
     For Patterson, protesting is more than just holding sign and chanting slogans in front of the courthouse.
     “The issues here in Baltimore go much deeper than what happened to Freddie Gray,” Patterson said. “It’s about the poverty and the social warfare that’s going on here. It’s about how, at the end of the month, people have no money for food or clothing or diapers.”
     “For the people living in the worst neighborhoods public housing has been replaced by jails,” Patterson added.
     Even before riots erupted on April 27, protesters gathered downtown to how the police treat Baltimore’s most vulnerable populations.
     “We have to join forces with our fellow citizens to demand justice,” said C.D. Witherspoon, a protester living in the same West Baltimore neighborhood where Gray lived. “This is our opportunity to be seen, to be heard.”
     Witherspoon, in his early 30s, had a scruffy goatee and smiled broadly as he assessed the scene of protesters near a metal barricade near the Calvert Street courthouse.
     Baltimore city police and sheriffs arrested at least one protester that day.
     When Gray’s arresting officers faced a Sept. 2 hearing, one in which they unsuccessfully tried to have the charges against them dismissed, police made two more arrests in connection with the blocking of traffic on Pratt Street.
     Witherspoon, who has been part of the protests since they began in early April, said the community has “a clear and distinct message that needs to be heard.”
     “We are demanding justice, and not just justice for the officers that murdered Freddie Gray, justice for the poor folks living here in Baltimore,” Witherspoon said.
     Goodson is the only officer charged with murder. Sgt. Alicia White, Lt. Brian Rice and officer William Porter are charged with manslaughter. Officers Edward Nero and Garrett Miller face lesser charges, including second-degree assault.

     Present outside Thursday’s hearing were representatives for People’s Power Assembly, an organization with the mission to “organize to empower workers and people to demand jobs, education and health care while fighting against racism, police terror, sexism and LGBT bigotry.”
     Julie MacGregor, a protester with that group, said she was happy that Judge Barry William decided to keep the trials in Baltimore. MacGregor, who is retired, said she volunteers as much time as she can to People’s Power Assembly and is dedicated to helping those who have had their city-provided water turned off when they are unable to pay their bills.
     “This is an opportunity to be heard and our actions have impact,” said MacGregor. “It’s unfortunate that it takes the death of a young man to have people listen to what we have to say.”
     “I have seen police brutality firsthand,” MacGregor added, smoking a cigarette as she brushed her gray hair from her face. “I’ve been outside my house on the steps, and I’ve seen [police] pull over and harass young black men, who were just walking down the street. The police are just hostile bullies. The situation is terrible, getting worse, and it’s terrifying.”
     Patterson said he sees the heavy police presence during the protests as a good thing, helping to keep order. “Maybe some of these guys will actually hear what we’re saying and take it to heart,” Patterson said, turning to look at a group of five or six police officers standing next to a barricade where protesters had gathered to talk.
     Patterson, Witherspoon and MacGregor all said that they would return to continue with their protesting efforts when the trials of the officers begin in October.

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