Word travels fast in the ‘hood.
Everyone knew that Baltimore City police Officer William G. Porter’s trial ended in a mistrial within an hour of the announcement. There were no shouts of, “No justice, no peace. Police, no peace,” as crowds were downtown at the courthouse after Judge Barry Williams declaration was made public.
Sandtown residents responded the same as when Freddie Gray was arrested by Western District police officers on Presbury and Mount Streets. They poured out of their homes. There were no residents capturing video worthy of a conviction this time. This time it was the media trucks lined up while reporters milled through the crowd waiting for something to ignite. But it didn’t.
A lone helicopter hovered shining lights on people who gathered peacefully at Pennsylvania and North Avenue, called Penn-North by residents.
This time instead of being led by individuals who destroyed police cars and burned down buildings, there were preachers on every corner. “They let y’all burn down CVS. They didn’t lose nothing. And that’s why we see some of our kids strung out,” he said. It was widely reported that the amount of drugs taken from CVS were enough to keep Baltimore residents high for a year.
He followed an Imam who moved to another corner to speak to residents and keep them calm. It was pretty quiet although media reports spread that police were on high alert for more rioting after the verdict.
Enoch Pratt Free Library at Pennsylvania and North was filled with patrons. Old men whose eyes were glued to the computers before them and boys who laughed heartily, enjoying themselves. Neither of the boys who argued over a library account seemed bothered by Gray’s death, but after they caught a glimpse of Freddie Gray headlines splattered on a nearby screen, they could be heard saying sympathetically, “he died.”
James Carter, manager of a North Avenue cell phone store said police beefed up their presence the day before the verdict, which he says explained why there was no looting.
Yet, there seemed to be a feeling of aimlessness on the part of residents as some drifted down the street dazed, waiting for anyone to ask them about their friend Gray. He had a lot of friends. Nearly everyone interviewed said they knew him.
“They should charge the ones that beat him in the alley,” three men agreed. They said they witnessed the initial encounter between police and Gray that fateful Sunday morning of April 12. When they looked to see what police were doing with Gray in the alley, officers told them: “Get the [expletive] away from the alley! Mind your business.”
Most men and women interviewed for this story were afraid to give their names. Reports of police intimidation echoes throughout the city by men black and white. “You must not know how much intimidation the police hold around here. They send your own people against you,” one man said. “They got their own society.” Many of the men have been ravaged by drug use. Rough voices are so present that they have their own dialect.
The men admit to selling drugs and obviously have had exposure to substances, which is practically a rite of passage in Baltimore.
“His [expletive] should have been found guilty,” Tyreshi B. stated. “I don’t care what that little boy did. He did not deserve to die like that. Hung jury my [expletive],” she said. When asked if she really wanted to say that she continued, “In all capital letters.” Her grandmother was with her. It was obvious Tyreshi got it honest, so to speak, when her grandmother said, “The jury needs to be found guilty!”
June Jones of the Penn-North Community Center said her group has been praying in the community for the past three days. Nearly 80 people stood with their backs against the wall and recited the “Serenity Prayer” in the direction of the Crips and Bloods who take turns selling drugs across the street. The prayer could be heard loud and clear and is learned by members of drug rehabilitation programs.
Lena Werrell said of the peaceful protest, “We’re doing this for the case of Freddie Gray. [Police] didn’t do their job,” she said. “They didn’t get him medical help.”
Others were less diplomatic. “They should have locked [Porter] up. He had everything to do with it,” one man said, barely able to speak. “They know what’s going on. They let this fly. It ain’t gonna fly. People want answers,” he said.
“How they gonna break his spine,” asked another man who his name is Thomas Jefferson.
There is anger in Sandtown. Unlike in April, it is on a low burn. “They put that boy in the cruiser and act like they went to the station,” another man said. “They [expletive] me up for running my mouth like I am now,” he said. “My eye socket was broken. They kicked me in the face. The only reason they not doing that today is because of what’s going on [with Freddie Gray],” he added. “Otherwise, they would still be kicking ass.”
”The majority of people around here are selling something. It’s a poverty stricken area,” he said.
“Prayerfully, everything will be alright throughout the night,” the librarian clerk at Penn-North said. “I hope everything will be okay.”
Community organization Safe Streets was standing by. “We’re trying to make sure that we keep the peace,” Gregory Marshburn said. “The thing is we don’t want a recurrence of what happened before. We are trying to educate more people who are upset and don’t know what’s going on,” he said. Marshburn said his organization is opening a Safe Streets in Sandtown. “We have people like myself – Old G’s – who people listen to.” He said younger people are more likely to listen to “Old G’s that watched them grow up, sent them to the store, gave them their first drugs.” His job title is Violence Interrupter, his territory is Mondawmin, the area where students were confronted by police as they left high school during the April unrest. Mondawmin is so close to Sandtown that trouble could spread. So he was there to prevent that because he felt what others were also feeling, “The evidence against [Porter] wasn’t as strong as [it was] against other individuals.
But one woman did not appreciate the protestors. “They’re doing all of this for the media. The [expletive] don’t make no sense to me,” she said. “It was a hung jury meaning he has to be tried all over again. I think that’s sad. I think it’s embarrassing,” she added. When pressed for an explanation of who should be embarrassed, she said “For the city and the community. Because, I mean look at it. This [expletive] is a mess. A whole mess. That man is resting in peace. Let him rest in peace. Think about it,” she said. “We have how many murders?” The last count is 331. “And we have how many days,” she asked. “They’re doing all of that for nothing,” she said and left without stating her name.
Maybe after she will take the one quick stop at Metro Station to Upton Station to behold a blue themed Romaire Bearden mural, to ease her view of Penn-North, which is at the tip of what used to be a bustling center of entertainment hosting the likes of Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Billie Holiday in a time of wholeness and not whole mess.