A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to eventually do a proper blog post expressing my feelings and impressions of the day that I participated in the May Day protest in Baltimore (which is now known among some circles as the Baltimore Uprising). Since I didn’t originally start this blog as a news blog (other than news about what I’m doing regarding my arts, crafts, and photography), I decided to just link to the photos and videos I had taken in that previous entry while taking my time to digest what I had witnessed before writing this post for posterity.
That May Day protest was one of many that were called in the wake of the murder of Freddie Gray by six Baltimore City police officers. A few hours before the protest happened, the chief prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announced that the six officers will be indicted. While that was good news, the protest still went on as scheduled because there was a 10 p.m. curfew that was still in effect (which was ultimately lifted on May 3) and there were still a bunch of issues that the protesters also wanted to focus on like police brutality against young African American men, and income disparity. Here is my own personal story of what I saw and photographed on May Day.
The night before the protest, I created a protest sign where I used this famous saying of Holocaust survivor Pastor Martin Niemöller.
Unfortunately I learned the hard way that it was hard for me to hold the sign while taking pictures at the same time. On top of it, my sign had a lot of words that required people to stop and read while the other protestors had signs with simple slogans that one could read in two or three seconds. Well, that’s a learning experience for me. (LOL!) I ultimately put that sign back in my recyclable Aldi shopping bag that I brought with me.
I drove my car to the North Linthicum light rail stop. The next photo shows the light rail pass I purchased. I decided against driving all the way into Baltimore because I feared that finding affordable parking would be a problem.
Once I got off at the Baltimore Convention Center stop, I decided to take the Charm City Circulator bus towards the far end of the Inner Harbor. On my way to the nearby bus stop, I saw the first of many police officers wearing riot gear on the corner of South Eutaw and West Pratt Streets.
I ultimately got off at the stop closest to the Power Station. I originally intended to treat myself to a meal at Phillips Seafood Restaurant because I hadn’t eaten there since before my husband walked out on me in 2011. But then I saw that all the stores and restaurants in the Power Station were closed earlier than usual on a Friday.
I decided to walk back towards Harborplace. I passed the Baltimore World Trade Center where I saw more police officers in riot gear guarding that building.
I shot the next two photos of these giant barriers next to the World Trade Center—which were erected to deter car bombs—that had flowers planted in them.
I eventually walked across the street where I found a Shake Shack that was one of the few businesses in the Inner Harbor area that was still opened. There was a sign posted on the door stating that it was going to close earlier than usual due to the 10 p.m. curfew that was put into effect just a few days earlier in the wake of the rioting following Freddie Gray’s funeral. At least I got to eat dinner (which was very good, by the way).
After dinner I walked back across the street towards Harborplace, where I saw more police officers in riot gear and police cars parked everywhere.
Both pavilions in Harborplace were totally closed, which is very unusual for a Friday that didn’t fall around a major holiday (such as Christmas Day).
The whole area was totally fortified with a phalanx of Baltimore police officers, Maryland state troopers, and members of the Maryland National Guard. It was totally surreal.
What was also surreal was the police from other parts of the state also helping out in Baltimore as well.
One of the vests in the next photo said “Laurel Police.” I happened to live near Laurel so I know how far these particular officers had to travel in order to get to the Inner Harbor.
When I first arrived in Baltimore, I felt a little bit intimidated by all these armed police officers and National Guard people, some of whom had their guns out and looked like they were ready to fire their weapons at any moment. I initially took my photos from far away using the zoom function on my smartphone.
But then I took some minor risks where I took closer photos. Then I took photos that were closer. As I took the photos, nothing happened. The armed people basically ignored me as I took these pictures.
When I recounted this to an African American friend at my Unitarian Universalist church two days later she said that I was ignored because I am a white woman. Then I finally realized the full extent of white privilege. For the last few years there have been dedicated activists at my UU congregation—both black and white—making a dedicated effort to wipe out racism while examining the phenomenon of white privilege. For years I secretly protested the idea that I was even using white privilege in any way because I usually gone to great lengths not to have a ME! ME! ME! entitlement personality.
But after what happened in Baltimore, I realized that there’s more to white privilege than white people acting like they have a ME! ME! ME! entitlement personality and expecting special treatment because of being born with white skin color. It’s also how others react to your presence. Even though I tried not to act as if I was entitled while I took those photos, it was the people in those photos who decided to ignore me because I was a white female. If I was an African American man the same age as Freddie Gray, I think there’s a strong chance that the outcome would’ve been different. Ditto if I had been a Middle Eastern man with a bushy beard.
White privilege is multifaceted because while I can control myself in not acting in an entitled way, I can’t control the actions of others in how they perceive me anymore than Freddie Gray could control how the police officers decided to treat him because he was a poor young African American man. The only person I can control is myself.
I know it’s not fair that I managed to emerge from taking photos of people with weapons unscathed because of my race and gender while a male person of color wouldn’t be so lucky like I was. Unfortunately I don’t have any answers.
I finally found the protest rally that was gathered at McKeldin Square next to Harborplace.
At first the protest rally seemed relatively small until another contingent from other protest marches that were held elsewhere in the city earlier in the day arrived to McKeldin Square and the protest rally suddenly surged in number.
At one point I even shot some video of the whole march. I ultimately spit the video into two short videos. This video focused on the phalanx of armed people guarding the Inner Harbor, the rally in McKeldin Square, and the initial march down East Pratt Street past Harborplace and the Inner Harbor. It’s raw footage with minimal editing.
Once everyone was gathered the march started. The protesters initially walked down East Pratt Street.
At one point the protest march turned left on to Gay Street. I was in the back of the crowd, which wasn’t so bad because I found Britney Girl Dale, the same person whom I saw along Ritchie Highway during my massive day-long tour of Baltimore and Glen Burnie last summer. Since that time she had become the subject of a new short documentary. It was just pure luck and chance that I happened to come across Britney Girl Dale and her friend, Anthony (who’s also in the documentary), as they were flirting among the police officers who were watching the protesters while following the march route.
The protesters kept on walking along Gay Street while passing the outermost perimeter of Baltimore’s notorious red light district known as The Block.
The marchers kept on Gay Street until we reached City Hall, which was a mix of protesters, media people, and all kinds of security people with their guns drawn. For added measure, there were even cars passing by while the drivers were honking their horns. It was surreal to say the least.
In case the still photos don’t do enough to convey how surreal the scene was, here’s the second of the two videos that I shot on that same day. Like the other video I posted earlier in this entry, this one also consists of raw footage with minimal editing. This video begins with Britney Girl Dale getting a photo with one of the police officers providing security during the march up Gay Street. Then there is the scene of City Hall that’s filled with a mix of protesters, Baltimore police officers, Maryland National Guard people, media people plus cars passing by while the drivers were honking their horns. The video ends with three musicians playing John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” while armed National Guard people are standing nearby.
Located just across the street from City Hall is the historic Zion Lutheran Church. I had only been there one other time and that was to check out the Christkindlemarkt that was held there last November.
The gates were locked this time but there was a maypole with a little tree on top indicating that the church did the traditional May Day ritual of dancing around the maypole.
There were a few dedicated protesters who wanted to continue farther north all the way to the intersection of North and Pennsylvania Avenues (which was Ground Zero for where the riots broke out after Freddie Gray’s death just a few days earlier). I briefly thought about it but I decided against it because I was already tired. I had already done a lot of walking—starting with that one block walk I made from the Baltimore Convention Center light rail stop to the Charm Circulator bus stop. From there I took the bus to the far end of the Inner Harbor. I walked over to the Power Plant, saw that it was closed, then opted to walk along the Inner Harbor back towards Harborplace and McKeldin Square. Once the march started, I walked along Pratt Street then followed the crowd up Gay Street until we reached City Hall.
There was also talk via Twitter of protesters staying out past 10 p.m. and defying that curfew. As for me, I decided to obey the curfew for two reasons: 1) I drove my car to the North Linthicum light rail station and took public transportation the rest of the way into the city because I was uncertain about available parking. I made the right decision since there were cop cars and military vehicles parked all over the place around the Inner Harbor and City Hall. But if I wanted to get back to my car, I had to take the light rail and I was afraid that service would’ve ended earlier than usual because of the curfew. 2) Money is pretty tight with me now and I’m not sure if I could even afford a decent lawyer to get any charges against me dismissed. (It turned out that 50 activists were later arrested that evening outside City Hall for defying the 10 p.m. curfew.)
Basically I ended my May Day protest by resting on one of the benches outside City Hall for a while then I started to walk along Fayette Street towards the nearest light rail stop (Lexington Market). In the process I walked past two Baltimore Metro stops, which I didn’t know too well compared to the light rail line. (I later learned that I could’ve saved myself some walking time had I simply taken one of the Baltimore Metro trains to the Lexington Market stop then transferred over to the Lexington Market light rail stop. D’OH!) All that walking made me tired and sore for the weekend and I didn’t feel fully recovered until Monday. But, on the other hand, thanks to my walking along Fayette Street, I managed to take a few more photos showing the effects of that 10 p.m. curfew and how bad Baltimore has gotten in terms of deteriorating buildings.
The last three shots show a coffee shop with a recently busted front window. I have no idea if that window was broken by looters in the wake of the Freddie Gray incident or if it was simply an unrelated robbery done by a criminal taking advantage of the situation in Baltimore to steal some money and valuables while the cops were busy dealing with violent protesters. I also don’t know why anyone hadn’t tried to clean up the debris from the broken window. Leaving broken glass on the ground like that is a potential health hazard.