Residents Call for Change as Curfew Sets Over Baltimore


     BALTIMORE (CN) – As the protests wound down Tuesday night, many living in the neighborhoods affected by the rioting say what happened to Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man that died of a severed spinal cord sustained while in police custody, has more to do with class than it does race.
     Though it resembled a war zone the night before, the intersection of West North and Philadelphia avenues had a festive air on Tuesday night, with an impromptu jazz band playing and dancing in the streets.
     On Monday night, following the funeral of Gray, protests turned violent. More than 20 police officers were injured, more than 200 arrests were made, and firefighters battled 159 blazes set by rioters.
     The slogan from that night, “no justice, no peace,” saw a variation on the signs hundreds of marchers carried up Philadelphia Avenue Tuesday.
     “Know Justice. Know Peace,” the signs read, as their bearers chanted, “We love Baltimore. We want peace.”

     For all the rhetoric calling for peace and justice, and the media frenzy surrounding the events of Monday night, however, those living in the neighborhoods of northwest Baltimore say that what happened to Gray is an everyday occurrence.
     For residents, it does not matter if the police are white or black, the way they treat the public is the same.
     “This shit has been going on for a long time,” said Ja’Mal Williams, 25, who lives just one block from where the riots occurred. “Of course Freddie ran. It doesn’t matter if you’re guilty of something or not. You hear the whoop-whoop of the siren when the cops pull up, and you run. If you run, there’s a chance you wake up in your own bed the next morning. But if you don’t, you’re going to jail whether you did something wrong or not.”
     “You know what’s [messed] up? Those officers kill a black man and you know what they get for it? They get paid vacation,” Williams said. “For me if I’m standing on the wrong street corner at the wrong time you know what I get? Time in the slammer.”
     Williams said that police in Baltimore are notorious for striking those they are questioning and that asking a question as simple as, “what did I do?” can get you a baton in the mouth.
     Tyrell Johnson, who was attending the protests with Williams, said that West North Avenue is an invisible line that separates his poorer black community from more affluent homes south of the line.
     “In our neighborhood just setting on you stoop can get you harassed and arrested,” Johnson said. “It don’t matter if you’re there with your mom and your kid. They [police] can just pull up and tell you to put your hands behind your back. There ain’t no posting bail and there ain’t none of us that can afford a lawyer. You never see that across the street where the rich folks live.”
     For Williams, the rioting wasn’t about race.
     “It’s about whether or not you got money in your pocket, it’s about which neighborhood you live in,” he said.
     Protests ended peacefully on Tuesday night as police and the National Guard enforced the 10 p.m. curfew imposed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

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