National Guard Deployed as Baltimore Erupts After Years of Police Violence, Economic Neglect

StoryApril 28, 2015
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Jesse Jackson

civil rights leader, and president and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

Lawrence Bell

is former Baltimore City Council president and represented West Baltimore, which is the area where Freddie Gray was arrested.

For the second time in six months, National Guard troops have been deployed in response to police brutality protests. Baltimore erupted in violence Monday night over the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old African-American man who died of neck injuries suffered in police custody after he was arrested for running. Police say at least 27 people were arrested as cars and stores were set on fire, and at least 15 officers were injured. Baltimore public schools are closed, and a weeklong curfew is in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Also Monday, thousands gathered to pay their respects during Freddie Gray’s funeral, including our guest, Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader, and president and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Jackson says the violence "diverts attention away from the real issue" that West Baltimore is an "oasis of poverty and pain" where residents have long suffered from police abuse and economic neglect. We also speak with Lawrence Bell, former Baltimore City Council president. He grew up in and represented the impoverished area where Freddie Gray was arrested, and argues the "chickens are coming home to roost."

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in The Hague in the Netherlands, but we begin today’s show in Baltimore, Maryland, where National Guard troops have been deployed following violent protests over the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old African-American man who died of neck injuries suffered in police custody after he was arrested for running. His family has said his spine was "80 percent severed" at the neck. Police say they arrested at least 27 people on Monday night. At least 15 police officers were injured during the uprising. Overnight, cars and stores were set on fire, including a CVS and a portion of an historic Italian deli that’s been in the city since 1908.

Following Ferguson, this marks the second time in six months the National Guard has been called to restore order after police brutality protests. This time, protests erupted in the West Baltimore neighborhood where Gray was first arrested for making eye contact with a lieutenant and then running away. On Monday night, Maryland Governor Hogan declared a state of emergency. Today, Baltimore’s public schools are closed, and a week-long curfew is in effect from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake addressed the city Monday night.

MAYOR STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE: What we see tonight that is going on in our city is very disturbing. It is very clear there is a difference between what we saw over the past week with the peaceful protests, those who wish to seek justice, those who wish to be heard and want answers, and the difference between those protests and the thugs, who only want to incite violence and destroy our city.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier on Monday, thousands gathered to pay their respects during Freddie Gray’s funeral, including Maryland Democratic Congressmember Elijah Cummings, a delegation from the White House, and the family of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after a New York City police officer put him in a banned chokehold. This is Gray family attorney Billy Murphy.

BILLY MURPHY: You know, most of us are not here because we knew Freddie Gray, but we’re all here because we know lots of Freddie Grays. Let’s dont’ kid ourselves. We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for video cameras. Instead of one cover-up behind that blue wall after another cover-up behind that blue wall, and one lie after another lie, now we see the truth as never before. It’s not a pretty picture.

AMY GOODMAN: Baltimore police say they expect to present a report on Gray’s death to the state’s attorney’s office by Friday, but officials have not said when the report will be made public. Six officers involved in Gray’s arrest have been suspended with pay.

Well, for more, we go to Baltimore, where we’re joined by two guests. The Reverend Jesse Jackson is with us, civil rights leader, president and founder of Rainbow PUSH Coalition. He spoke at Freddie Gray’s funeral Monday. And Lawrence Bell rejoins us, former Baltimore City Council president. He represented West Baltimore, which is the area where Freddie Gray was arrested.

We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Reverend Jackson, let’s begin with you. Your reaction to what took place last night, as well as your message in the funeral of Freddie Gray?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, what happened last night was very disturbing. It was a expression of hopelessness and self-destructive violence, which diverts attention away from the real issues. For example, Fred Gray was the 111th [inaudible] killed by a policeman since 2011—one-one-one, not just the first one. Secondly, in that same area, unemployment is 30 percent. There are 18,000 vacant homes or abandoned lots, because government—because banks ran subprime lending and predatory lending on people. The banks got bailed out; the people got left out. So the abounding poverty, because you have the most people in that area who have been to prison who come out and can’t vote and then can’t get the job because they’ve been to prison. So you have—you really have this oasis of poverty and pain, and you must, beside last night, address the structural crisis in Baltimore and urban America, period.

AMY GOODMAN: Lawrence Bell, the area that you represented when you were in the City Council is the area where Freddie Gray was arrested—arrested, again, according to the lieutenant, she made eye contact with him, and he ran away, and that was grounds for arresting him. Can you talk about this community where—that you have represented for so long?

LAWRENCE BELL: Well, in fact, I was actually born a few blocks away from where the incident occurred, so it really touches me personally. You know, I think that there have been years of neglect, not only of West Baltimore, but all over the inner city of Baltimore. And I think that the chickens are coming home to roost. I mean, this is a tale of two cities. This has been going on for a long time, not only the police abuse, which escalated in the early 2000s under the zero-tolerance policy of Martin O’Malley, but also just the economic violence that has been committed against a people. And you have a lot of young people, many of whom have already been arrested because of the mass arrests that have gone on in Baltimore City. They see no hope. They see no way out. And they’re acting out, unfortunately, and it says that we’ve got to wake up and do something.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Amy, I think also, we were in church yesterday, where governor noticed that the gangs were coming together, and they want to shoot a police. Immediately there was a kind of panicky move to do a lockdown on the city. There were several schools, when the public transportation stopped, did not have a way home. You had thousands of kids on the streets with no way to get home, because when the city went to lockdown rather than a policeman get shot, transportation stopped, businesses closed, and kids had nowhere to go. In that environment, the whole thing exploded.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. This is just after he announced the state of emergency and activated the National Guard to respond to unrest in Baltimore.

GOV. LARRY HOGAN: Everybody believes we need to get to the answers and resolve this situation, the concern everybody has about what exactly happened in the Freddie Gray incident. That’s one whole situation. This is an entirely different situation. This is lawless gangs of thugs roaming the streets, causing damage to property and injuring innocent people, and we’re not going to tolerate that.

AMY GOODMAN: "Lawless gangs of thugs," Reverend Jackson. Your response?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, I think such language does not aid the situation. For example, those people, those bankers who engaged in subprime and predatory lending and took people’s homes and drove them out of the middle class into poverty, what is their name? Or 111 killings in three years in one area, what do you call those who did the killing, when there was no camera? When you look at 30 percent unemployment, TIF money spent downtown for the big new Baltimore, and pension money and banking money. So you have, as Brother Bell says, you have downtown blossoming, booming Baltimore, and then you have the rest of them. Now, we did not engage in name calling on that matter, but we do know that that strategy does not work. And we really need to look at, Amy, the Kerner Commission Report of 50 years ago. It says when you have this radical racial divide and economic divide, there must be some remedy, not just reaction.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Jackson, can you also respond to Freddie Gray’s arrest? This issue of—this is according to the police, that he made eye contact with the lieutenant and ran away, that’s what they allege. The attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, the police union, said running in a high-crime area is grounds for arrest.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, you know, it’s interesting enough that police here and firemen have the right to work in the city and live in the suburbs. Some live as far away as York, Pennsylvania. And so they come in as an occupying force, not as neighbors. So, often people are afraid of them, because they’re not taxpaying neighbors whose children go to school with their children. So there is this gap between police and people. And you really ought to have residential requirements for policemen and firemen. Those who get nectar from the flower should sow pollen where they pick up nectar.

AMY GOODMAN: Baltimore Orioles chief operating officer John Angelos, who is the son of the owner, Peter Angelos, took to Twitter this weekend to defend the Baltimore protests after they were attacked on local sports radio. He wrote, quote, "my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state." Again, so wrote Baltimore Orioles chief operating officer John Angelos, who is the son of the owner, Peter Angelos. Reverend Jackson?

REV. JESSE JACKSON: You can’t get any better than that, because you have this combination of guns in, drugs in, jobs out, and alienation between those who live in the surplus and those who live in the deficit. So there are some causal factors that must not be ignored. We regret that there was the expression of street violence last night, because, one reason, it’s not redemptive; two, it diverts attention from the agenda put on that letter. We should be discussing today the Kerner Report as opposed to what happened last night. But there is a cause-effect relationship. But we should do well not to panic in the face of last night, and move toward the remedies. Since this is so close to Washington, why not make this an urban model for reconstruction?

LAWRENCE BELL: Let me also add to what Reverend Jackson just said. You know, back in the 1930s, my grandfather came from North Carolina to Baltimore with very little education and got a good-paying job at Bethlehem Steel. Now, those—like the grandparents of many of those young people out there yesterday, those jobs have dried up. And this is a generation that—where there are too many people seeking too few jobs in Baltimore City. They are disadvantaged. And then, on top of that—and I do agree with the comments of Mr. Angelos—you know, people on the street in Sandtown, in Mondawmin, in West Baltimore, they know already what happened to Freddie Gray. And the thing that concerns us is that if so many people know what happened, they know the officer that was involved, they know how he was killed, if they know, why don’t the police know? Why doesn’t the mayor know? Why doesn’t—why isn’t that announced sooner? So it says something about the priorities in that area. And something really has to change soon.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: And this blue code of [inaudible], it means that police must—will not police other police. They know who engage in violence and excessive force. And because police will not tell on police—gangbangers will not tell on gangbangers, getting that model from adults. The corruption of the relationship between people and police, that corrupt relationship must end.

AMY GOODMAN: This is a clip from a video report by The Real News Network titled "A Walk Through the Neighborhood Where Freddie Gray Lived and Died," in which reporter Stephen Janis follows reporter and former prisoner Eddie Conway and our guest, Lawrence Bell, as they visit a rundown basketball court in the Gilmor Homes housing project, where Freddie Gray was arrested.

LAWRENCE BELL: I have a lot of interest in this community, and I’m saddened to see how things have gone downhill.

STEPHEN JANIS: This week, Bell joined The Real News correspondent Eddie Conway to talk about politics, crime and punishment, and what needs to happen to improve the city he loves.

LAWRENCE BELL: This city has been socially, economic and politically subdued and downtrodden so much in the last several years that people don’t even complain about it anymore. And they’re afraid to.

STEPHEN JANIS: The discussion took place against a symbolic backdrop for both men: a dilapidated basketball court in the Gilmor Homes housing project in West Baltimore, left in disrepair by the city for nearly 17 years. Conway has raised money to fix the court, but the city has blocked his efforts.

EDDIE CONWAY: So we’ve got a company that’s certified, that does this, that’s donating some of the stuff.


EDDIE CONWAY: And they’re going to be in from the beginning to the end to make sure it’s done.

STEPHEN JANIS: The city told us the community was divided on whether they wanted the court rebuilt. But residents we spoke to said they supported fixing it.

GILMOR HOMES RESIDENT: Look at it. This court ain’t been up since I was about three. I ain’t seen these goals up—

EDDIE CONWAY: Yeah, yeah.

GILMOR HOMES RESIDENT: From my own visual eyes, I ain’t seen them up yet.

AMY GOODMAN: That report from The Real News Network. Lawrence Bell, if you would like to elaborate further, and also, can you talk about the calls for the autopsy report to be released, and what more you feel needs to be done?

LAWRENCE BELL: Well, you know, the great irony is that that walk that I did with Eddie Conway happened just a few days before the incident. You know, it’s amazing.


LAWRENCE BELL: Right before that happened. We didn’t know that was going to happen. We happened to be there. And it just underscored what we were talking about. People are very upset. There is a lack of interest in just valuing the people that live in the neighborhood. And it’s been exacerbated by this situation, because we think information needs to come out a lot sooner. You know, people have seen these shows like 48 Hours, where they’re told that within the first two days or so, law enforcement should have an idea of what happened in a homicide. And here we see, nearly two weeks after this incident—everybody in that neighborhood and all the people in the street know. I’ve talked to people. I’ve talked to police officers. And as Reverend Jackson said earlier, one of the problems we have—and this is something here in Baltimore and all around the country that needs to be dealt with—is that even when we have African-American police and even well-intentioned white police officers, who see something that goes wrong, and they know somebody, as in this instance—and matter of fact, in this instance, the primary perpetrator was known to be racist. He was known to be negative in that neighborhood. Everybody knew it over in Western District, and he was still—he’s still been there. Now, when so many people know what’s going—

REV. JESSE JACKSON: Other incidents on tape.

LAWRENCE BELL: On tape. And there are people who saw it. They know where the paddy wagon stopped, when they took the young man out, they beat him up again. They have all these people who know this. Why has it taken two weeks to come out with a report, with an autopsy? If this had happened right after the incident, and someone was being fired immediately, OK, and people were let go, this would not have escalated to this point. So I think it’s a lesson for all of us here—

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 20 seconds.

LAWRENCE BELL: —and throughout the country.

REV. JESSE JACKSON: That’s what the man in Charleston, South Carolina, did.

AMY GOODMAN: We have 20 seconds. I want—

REV. JESSE JACKSON: He moved quickly.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke at Freddie Gray’s funeral yesterday, founder, president of PUSH now. And thank you so much to Lawrence Bell for being with us, former Baltimore City Council president, represented West Baltimore, which is the area where Freddie Gray was arrested.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, the first Iranian to win the Nobel Peace Prize, weighs in on the Iran compromise. She’s one of the chief critics of the Iranian regime, but says that the Iranian nuclear deal should be supported. Stay with us.

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