Baltimore Uprising: Why protesters faced arrest over City Council vote

A dozen activists were arrested early Thursday morning after engaging in an overnight sit-in at Baltimore City Hall.

Colin Campbell/The Baltimore Sun/AP
Protesters shout as council members leave the chamber at city hall in Baltimore, Wednesday A city council subcommittee voted to make Kevin Davis the permanent police commissioner Wednesday.

[Update: This story was updated at 11:45 a.m. Eastern time to reflect the latests number of arrests.]

An overnight sit-in at Baltimore City Hall ended with 16 activists, including three juveniles, being led away in plastic handcuffs. Activists convened at deliberations to make the city's interim police commissioner permanent, which they oppose, and demanded better policing practices.

Baltimore police say the protesters have been charged with trespassing. The majority of those arrested were from Baltimore, but some had traveled from nearby communities and suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Interim Commissioner Kevin Davis, who was appointed amid civil unrest and a spike in violence in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray about six months ago, was voted permanent commissioner by a City Council subcommittee. The final decision will go to a vote by the full council on Monday.

If confirmed, Mr. Davis would earn $200,000 a year under a contract that would go to June of 2020, as well as $150,000 severance if the next mayor fires him without cause, The Baltimore Sun reports.

As the Council subcommittee prepared for its vote Wednesday, activists from the Baltimore Uprising coalition, which includes high school students and community residents, began shouting from a balcony in the upper gallery of City Council chambers.

"All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray!" the activists chanted amid calls to postpone the vote. "No justice, no peace!"

The activists then began their sit-in.

The protesters said they wanted to be heard by Davis and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and listed specific demands, which included limiting police use of military-like equipment such as armored vehicles, and the use of riot gear as a last resort. They also want officers to always wear badges and name tags.

Davis is a contested choice as commissioner because of his hard-line tactics on the protests that followed the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody last April. His leadership and policing practices have been characterized as disrespectful and inequitable by activists.

As dawn approached, at least 25 police officers arrived at City Hall to get the remaining protesters to leave.

Lawrence Grand Pre, a protester who heeded police warnings and left, said those remaining were "young people being young people, and talking a lot about social justice.” He said watching the youth protesters' "level of commitment to social justice is empowering," in an interview with The Sun.

Following arrests at City Hall early Thursday morning, police said in a statement posted to Facebook that a small number of protesters had decided to leave after hours of warnings to the demonstrators.

"The remaining protesters refused to leave the building. As a direct result of their failure to comply, the remaining protesters have been arrested and charged with trespassing. There are no reported injuries at this time to any protesters or officers," the police statement added.

At the hearing, council members asked Davis’ stance on increasing police presence on the streets and the use of emerging technology including body cameras, both of which Davis said he supported, The Sun reports.

The vote fell in favor of Davis, 3 to 2. Councilman Nick Mosby, who is married to State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, voted against the confirmation, and Carl Stokes, who is running for mayor, abstained.

Marilyn Mosby is prosecuting six Baltimore police officers for their involvement in Mr. Gray's death, with the first trial set to begin on November 30. Following Ms. Mosby's decision and amid massive protests throughout the city, homicides went up and residents in crime-ridden neighborhoods accused police officers of abandoning their posts.

Davis assumed his interim role in July after his predecessor, Anthony Batts, was fired amidst the upheaval.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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