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Freddie Gray Protests Continue, Revealing Layers Of Mistrust

Mary Rose Madden for wypr

No answers yet in the death of 25 year old Freddie Gray who died Sunday from spinal injuries incurred while in police custody.  Wednesday's protests for Gray were filled with demonstrators chanting, marching, filled with emotion and fury. There were tears of outrage and calls to see Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in the streets, standing with the protestors - some of whom prayed for justice, some of whom screamed for answers.  But Thursday's protest at the Western District Police Station seemed to have a different tone.

Still infuriated, still mad as hell, the crowd of more than a hundred gathered at the police station, just a few blocks from where Freddie Gray was arrested on April 12th – and the concrete barricade that was used to block a street and hold the crowd back on Wednesday night was gone.  In its place was a roughly three foot high metal fence dividing the police and the protestors, along the curb of the district office.  The police, who seemed to be larger in presence, stood back on the grass and on the sidewalk on their side of the fence.  The protestors were spread throughout the streets, some sitting on stoops talking, some watching while others pushed up to their side of the fence – shouting and calling for the badges of the six officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death. 

After a while, several young kids spread along the fence, taunting, teasing, and insulting the officers, yelling, "Hey Simone! Yo! His butt is gonna break! He a fattie!” Then a local matriarch from the neighborhood stepped in.  "What are we getting across by doing that to them?" Bernadette Washington, 47, asked. The kids answered, "we ain’t doing nothing but talking back and forth with that man."  Washington replied, "but no, you being smart with them.  We not getting across by doing that.  Y’all not understanding me – they innocent.  You don’t know – they probably just out here doing their job." She tried to guide the young boys away from the foul calls, but to no avail.

Ron Wilson, 31, who was standing with his girlfriend, said it often feels like the police don’t respect them and he doesn’t want it to be this way. He said he’s been harassed by police.  He described a scene earlier that day, "they like "you are here selling drugs everyday.  Why you don’t protest when one of your black brothers get killed?"  I was like, “huh? First of all, I work.  I don’t sell no drugs."  I was walking to the store to get her a cup of ice and something to drink.  And they stopped me and had me right there for a half an hour, for no reason.” Wilson said being falsely arrested would be a major setback with his employer, "I thought I was going to jail for nothing!"

Brandon Miles, 31, said the prejudice is pervasive. "You know a lot of people go around here they think every last black male around here is some sort of savage or crooks, thieves, or criminals, but that’s no who we are. A lot of us are working men, we are college students, we are fathers." He and his friends often feel criminalized in their communities - it stems from a culture of racism, he said. "I’m not gonna say all police are bad, but I’ve had incidences not only with white cops, but black cops, too."

Many other protestors talked about the layers of mistrust between the police and African American men, especially from the inner city.  But towards the end of the evening, the hostility eased.  The fence that was meant to divide the two groups, started to become a place to meet.   Several African American police officers came to fence and several protestors came as well.  There was a group of distraught mothers expressing their fears for their children and there were two young men talking to an officer, telling him what it’s like for them to be targeted by police.  They tried to convince the African American police officer to join them on the their side of the fence.

“[young man] Could you be on the other side of this rail with us? [officer] Nah, but I appreciate you coming out here and being honest with me and also being cordial."

A few feet away, another officer was having a one on one conversation with a young man leaning on the fence.  He smiled, flashing his gold teeth, and said they had just met. "He the first one who sat here and actually talked to us like we human."