Outrage over the unexplained death of a black man in Baltimore, Maryland prompted nationwide protests against police brutality on Wednesday from Houston to Boston.
Baltimore has been the scene of near-nightly protests ever since the April 19 death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who is believed to have been fatally injured while in police custody.
However, the most dramatic protests Wednesday night happened in New York City, where a group of activists started an illegal march resulting in the arrests of at least 100 protesters in scuffles with police officers trying to maintain order on the streets.
Activists started gathering after 5pm in New York’s Union Square, and quickly grew to more than 1,000. All the while, police warned over loud speakers that they would start making arrests if the group moved out of the park.
Cops followed through on that threat when defiant leaders of the group started moving the masses onto the street – blocking traffic during the city’s rush hour.
Despite initial clashes with cops, the protest re-grouped several blocks to the west where they started marching northbound on the sidewalk of a major highway. Police appear to have left the protesters pretty much alone, escorting them on their march and only intervening when they stepped out into the streets.
At one point, the group formed a line at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel on the city’s west side – one of the major exits off the island to New Jersey.
The student-led protest in Baltimore began around 5:30pm at John Hopkins University and quickly grew to include more than 1,000 as they made their way to city hall holding signs reading ‘black lives matter’ and ‘black youth are not thugs’.
In one segment of the demonstration, protesters could be heard chanting: ‘Back up, back up, we want freedom. All these racist-a** cops we don’t need them.’
Gray’s death is just the latest to be connected to the national issue of police violence towards African Americans, inspiring protests not only in Baltimore but in several other major cities across the country. As the youth of Baltimore marched Wednesday evening, twin protests sprung up across the country following demonstrations in Chicago and Ferguson, Missouri the night before.
‘It’s great, the young people are doing what they should be doing. They should be sending a message that they want answers,’ Baltimore Councilman Brandon Scott told the Baltimore Sun.
Diondre ‘Grim’ Jackson was one of the students marching Wednesday night, and he said he is ‘living proof there is goodness…in this community.’
‘Everyone says youth have no voice. This is showing them youth are willing to use their voice for justice,’ the senior at Frederick Douglass High School told the Baltimore Sun.
Towson University student Koren Johnson, 19, one of the march’s organizers, added: ‘We do have opinions. We’re the ones getting murdered in the streets.’
Gray, 25, was arrested on April 12 for carrying a switchblade and within an hour was in hospital for serious spinal injuries. He died a week later, and the Department of Justice is currently investigating whether the cops who arrested Gray are responsible for causing his fatal injuries.
After similar demonstrations turned to rioting and looting Monday night, Gov Larry Hogan instituted a mandatory 10pm to 5am curfew. About 2,000 National Guardsmen and 1,000 police officers will be enforcing the curfew.
For the second night in a row, the citizens of Baltimore complied with the curfew and the streets were cleared by the designated hour.
At an afternoon press conference, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said there were no major incidents on Wednesday. Batts’ press conference came just minutes after it was announced that about half of the protesters arrested in the rioting on Monday would be released without being charged. However, Batts said these individuals could be hit with charges later.