One Year Since Riots, Baltimore Activists Gather In Peace

Apr 24, 2016
Originally published on April 24, 2016 7:05 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. It's been a year since Baltimore resident Freddie Gray died in police custody, setting off a night of riots and days of protests. Since then, the Justice Department has been investigating police practices in that city, and several the officers involved in Gray's death still face charges. Today, to draw attention to the anniversary, hundreds of people gathered in Baltimore for a march down the same streets that saw violent riots a year ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Chanting) One Baltimore, one vision.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) One Baltimore, one vision.

MARTIN: NPR's Eyder Peralta was there at that march today and joins us now from Baltimore. Hi Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hi Michel.

MARTIN: Eyder, you covered the protests a year ago. What's it like to be back in the same neighborhood this morning? What's the mood there?

PERALTA: The mood is reflective. People are still picking up the pieces here. Right before the march started, I went to one of the buildings that I saw burned down on that day. It was a little grocery store. And today, it was still boarded up and it's still charred. And today, I spoke to 34-year-old Jamin Stevens. And he was remarkably hopeful.

JAMIN STEVENS: You'll see broken-down buildings. You'll see homes and, you know, trash thrown everywhere, people not really taking care of their communities. You'll see, you know, drug dealers on this corner, drug dealers on that corner. I mean, that's the reality of where we're from. But there are changes in people's outlooks, you know, and mindsets.

PERALTA: So one of the things that Stevens says is that he was never politically active before the riots. And he says that today he was going to go knock on doors and campaign for a mayoral candidate. And that's change, he says.

MARTIN: So who was behind today's march? Who organized it?

PERALTA: Pastor Jamal Bryant. He runs a big congregation here. And there was also some celebrity power. Actors Danny Glover and Kendrick Sampson were here. But I think the stunning thing was that only a few hundred people showed up.

MARTIN: I take it that people were hoping for more than that.

PERALTA: Yeah. It was being billed as thousands of people. I hung out with two young guys who were kind of hanging out in the back of the pack as they marched. It was Jerome Trusty (ph) and Bruce Pade (ph). I asked Jerome why he thought the crowd was so small, and this is what he told me.

JEROME TRUSTY: The march doesn't mean anything. There - it's to look good, to make it look good, like we're fighting for something. But at the end of the day, they ain't going to give it to us. Like, I'm not walking, I'm not coming out there wasting my energy walking these blocks and nothing is going to change.

PERALTA: I should add that on Twitter, other activists weren't happy with the march. Lawrence Brown, who's an activist who teaches at Morgan State University, he tweeted, quote, "this talk of unity or one Baltimore is a complete farce."

MARTIN: And there's still more to this story, Eyder, is there not? I mean, there are the trials yet to come of the officers involved. And there's a very contentious mayoral race going on right now.

PERALTA: Yeah, there's a lot of questions up in the air for this city. You have the mayoral race, which features some young protesters who are running for office. And then you have sort of the old-school - former Mayor Sheila Dixon is trying to come back into the mayor's office. And then you have the federal investigation, right?

So the Justice Department is looking into the police practices of Baltimore. And sometime soon - we don't know when - they're expected to issue a report. Perhaps the biggest question though is what's going to happen to the officers who were charged in the death of Freddie Gray? We still have very little clarity on when those trials will proceed or even maybe some of them if they will proceed.

MARTIN: That's NPR Eyder Peralta in Baltimore. Eyder, thank you.

PERALTA: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.