A coalition of civil rights organizations held a rally outside of Baltimore City Hall concurrent with the city council’s Friday evening budget hearing. Their cries: Defund the police.
Baltimore City Council members will now be faced with the message screamed in the streets every day: this time, in indelible lavender paint.
The women of Organizing Black, a Baltimore-based advocacy organization, arranged for local artists to paint the slogan in bold lettering along Gay Street between Lexington and Fayette — similar in style to the Black Lives Matter street mural in Washington, D.C. — in response to a series of high-profile police killings of Black people, including George Floyd, who died at the hands of Minneapolis police last month.
Tre Murphy of Organizing Black called it “a constant reminder every time they walk into the building.”
“We telling ‘em we here and we coming to collect,” he told the crowd of protesters Friday afternoon.
Murphy said that organizers are also aiming to root out politicians who are in the pockets of the Baltimore Police Department.
“We coming to get you out, and then inside that same process, we going to take 50% of the police department budget,” he declared. The crowd erupted in cheers.
Everyone began to chant “You about to lose your job,” which is now a viral hit after video of a woman singing while being detained in early June was remixed.
“Let ‘em know you about to lose your job because we comin’: we comin’ for our power; we comin’ for our money; we comin’ for everything that should have been ours in the first place, but all these politicians, the police, they’ve been stealing our resources,” Murphy explained. “They’ve been hoarding their power, and it’s been waiting for a time like this for us to say ‘Y’all are going to implement our agenda. It’s no more about what you want.”
Organizing Black presented a list of four demands to the Baltimore City Council:
- Immediate divestment from the Baltimore City Police Department
- That half of the Baltimore Police Department’s 2020 budget be reinvested in Black communities
- Abolishment of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights
- Local control of the Baltimore Police Department
As Murphy read each one, the hundreds of rally attendees responded: “We mean that shit!”
‘Protest without strategy is an empty threat’
These organizations were not just in the streets to protest, but to push major restructuring policies at the local and national level.
Nupol Kiazolu of the Black Lives Matter Greater New York chapter emphasized to rally attendees the importance of pushing policy, saying that “protest without strategy is an empty threat.”
“So if we’re out here protesting and we don’t have strategy and policy that we’re also pushing for on the ground, then it’s an empty threat to the people in charge,” Kiazolu said. “But at the end of the day, we have to force these elected officials to remember that the power belongs to the people … and it’s always gon’ be there.”
Kiazolu rallies behind civilian review board legislation in an attempt to have civilian stakeholders review instances of police misconduct and brutality, asserting that “the police cannot prosecute the police.”
Policy surrounding the possible implementation of civilian review boards was introduced during the 2020 Maryland legislative session by Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery) under his second push to pass Anton’s Law police reform legislation, which died shortly after its bill hearing.
While Maryland’s legislative session may be through for the year, meaning no new laws are on the table until 2021, organizers are pushing for immediate tangible change in where they can.
Joshua Turner, a Baltimore-area activist, in partnership with Kiazolu and other organizers have been crafting legislation that would ban “all forms of any kind of choke.”
George Floyd was killed by a police officer who suffocated him with his knee.
“Currently within the status quo, chokes are only banned from use with an arm, but as we saw in various other instances, other instances of force can also be used to suffocate and kill someone,” Turner said. “And for too long these practices have been in practice that have killed too many black people within our country.”
Turner and Kiazolu are also pushing for mental health evaluations and racial bias and de-escalation training for law enforcement officers and, for instances where use of force leads to death, that officers be charged with a minimum of second-degree murder.
“We can no longer sit by and idly wait for our systems to go ahead and push for justice, you cannot wait for your oppressors and give you the keys to your own change,” he said. “You have to take those keys yourself and that’s what we are doing.”
Kiazolu said that she thinks it’s “funny” how the government thought that killing civil rights leaders in the 1960s and 1970s “would stop the movement.”
“Ain’t we out here today?” she asked. The crowd responded with cheers.
“So to the government, to the CIA and whoever else is listening to the police: You have fucked with the last generation,” she proclaimed.
April Doggans of Black Lives Matter D.C. told the crowd that her chapter is pushing not just for defunding, but for abolition.
“Black Lives Matter D.C. believes in abolition,” she said. “Circumventing the police to make our own selves safe should be our everyday goal.”
Doggans called abolition “a way of life,” suggesting that communities may be better off policing themselves than being policed by systems “we’ve been told are supposed to be for us but we don’t control.”
“Has anyone learned about autonomous zones this week?” she asked. “Did y’all know that y’all standing in an autonomous zone?” noting the lack of police presence within the demonstration area.
About 20 police officers were standing behind the gated area at City Hall. A series of helicopters also buzzed over demonstrators’ heads for hours.
Doggans said living in an “autonomous zone” — or community-policed areas — is possible.
“Why was it possible? Because people all over the country been doing it — shutting shit down. People have been out here making the people that line for the community because who keeps us safe?” she asked.
“We keep us safe,” the crowd roared.
In between speakers, the crowd danced as the smell of paint permeated Gay Street.
As she prepared the crowd to move, Samantha Masters of Organizing Black emphasized the need for Black joy.
“Black joy matters, Black resilience matters. Black laughter matters. Black fun matters. Because our people were not slaves, they were enslaved. Our people were not just the victims, they were human. And humans deserve joy,” she said.
Organizing Black held protests throughout the day — even, much to the chagrin of one City Council member, very early in the morning.
Around 7 a.m., demonstrators held a noisy caravan outside of District 11 Councilman Eric Costello’s home. Costello is the city’s Budget and Appropriations Committee chair, and ran unopposed during the primary election held earlier this month.
The councilman issued an apology after admitting to lashing out at a constituent over the phone. Her son, J. M. Giordano, was covering the protest as a member of the press.
“I have attempted to apologize to her son, who I did not realize was a member of the press and covering the event as such,” Costello wrote in a statement published on Twitter. He said he plans to do “a bit of soul-searching and a lot of listening” over the weekend.
Murphy said organizers are planning events throughout the city’s budgeting season, which ends June 30.
“So make sure that you tell him: ‘Eric Costello, we’re gonna wake your ass up again,’” Murphy told the crowd. “So y’all let him know. Let the mayor know if he ain’t committed to reducing the police department budget we’re gonna wake his ass up, too, ‘cause we got his addy, too.”
“But he already on his way out. He ain’t got no job.”
Towards the end of the event, which was extended by two hours to allow the paint to dry, Murphy reported to the crowd that Johns Hopkins University officials would halt their controversial decision to form an independent, armed police department for a minimum of two-years.
“We want Johns Hopkins to be part of the conversation about what is possible for our city and country in rethinking the appropriate boundaries and responsibilities of policing, and to draw on the energies, expertise, and efforts of our community in advancing the agenda for consequential and enduring reform,” Ronald J. Daniels, university president, Paul B. Rothman, CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, and Kevin W. Sowers, president of the Johns Hopkins Health System wrote in a statement.
“We stopped Johns Hopkins today and we’re gonna stop their asses tomorrow, and the next day, and the next month, and the next year and years to come because they ain’t getting no private police force as long as we up in here in Baltimore,” Murphy declared.
“Whose streets?” he asked.
“Our streets,” the dwindling crowd returned.