Protesters occupied Baltimore City Hall overnight, demanding community involvement in the selection of a new police commissioner for the city. Police arrested at least 12 on charges of trespassing in the early hours of Thursday morning.
One protester posted a video message from the back of the police van after he was arrested.
“We are getting arrested because they don’t value our lives. All we want is just a little bit of respect, our demands met, to hear from he people in positions of power, the mayor and the police commissioner,” the man said in footage posted by @BaltimoreBloc.
Most of the protesters were young student activists who oppose city deliberations to instate interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis on a permanent basis. A city council subcommittee voted to make Davis the permanent police commissioner on Wednesday night, however he still has to be approved by the full council in a vote scheduled for Monday.
Davis took the interim role in July after his predecessor, Anthony Batts, was fired after violence rocked Baltimore and in the wake of unrest and rioting in April in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death.
Six Baltimore police officers have been charged in connection with Gray’s death and are currently awaiting trial. Since their arrests, widespread unrest, homicides have risen, and residents in crime-addled neighborhoods have accused police officers of abandoning their posts.
The Baltimore Police Department said protesters who refused to leave city hall “after hours of communication and warnings” were arrested. They estimate that around 50 people took part in the sit-in.
City hall was quiet for a few hours, and police left the scene, but just hours later, a new group of protesters had gathered in front of the building around 8 a.m.
The group also sought a sit-down meeting with Davis and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and had vowed not to leave city hall until city officials agreed to meet a list of demands that included better treatment for protesters, a significant investment in public schools and social services and a promise that police would avoid wherever possible using armored vehicles and riot gear. In the interest of constitutional rights, the protesters said, they also want officers to always wear badges and name tags.
“All we are doing is peacefully demonstrating. We were disrespected by Kevin Davis. He didn’t take us seriously,” said Kevin Wellons, a 19-year-old man who left the sit-in around 3:30 a.m. with several others after a police warning.
Kwame Rose, an organizer who had been with the group for hours, also left with several others before police moved in. Rose said activists will continue to press for police reforms.
“The politicians, they failed us today,” Rose said. “All [Davis] had to do was come upstairs for ten minutes. All we wanted was for the commissioner to meet the people he’s attacking. And now he’s attacking us again.”
Addressing the council subcommittee Wednesday, Davis said he remains committed to training officers to actively engage and interact with community members.
Additional information from the Associated Press.