I was at the Saturday protests in Baltimore aimed at seeking justice for Freddie Gray, the young man who died while in police custody, his spine severed and neck broken. This column is about what took place inside Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where fans were told on orders from Baltimore’s Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts to stay inside the stadium following the Os’ extra-innings victory over the Boston Red Sox, rather than risk the “violence” of protesters.
But before we go to the baseball field, let’s make one thing clear: Most everything the media reported about the Baltimore protests has skirted the line between the highly sensationalistic and the libelous. Every headline and photo has focused on property damage, allegedly done by those protesting for Freddie Gray. Played down or ignored is the Baltimore I saw: a place where more than 2,000 people—including families and children—marched resolutely while helicopters and visible surveillance drones flew overhead.
This is not to say people are not enraged with a city police department that, beyond Freddie Gray, has a proven record of seeing black lives as expendable. A young woman named Tracey who told me she grew up in the same apartment complex as Freddie Gray said to me that she was marching because “The police aren’t going to stop making us afraid unless we show them that we’re not scared. Not one more sister or brother should die at their hands.”
That story, the one where a portion of the city—the black, economically ignored portion—lives in dread of police violence and were marching not just for Freddie Gray but against the history of the Baltimore PD, was not the story the media chose to tell. Instead, they chose headlines like this, to tingle the synapses of those who have little to fear from police, poverty, or street crime, but never seem to feel more alive than when they feel afraid. It’s unconscionable, just as it was unconscionable for the Baltimore police union to call protesters “a lynch mob,” just as it was unconscionable for the city to take the actions it did at Camden Yards.
On Saturday, after the Baltimore chief of police and mayor ordered the fans to stay inside Camden Yards, the Oriole faithful were “given instructions of areas [of the city] to avoid.” This detaining of thousands of fans for their own “protection,” only lasted a few minutes, but its effects have been far-reaching. Whether intentional or not, it was more than just an overly cautious over-reaction. It was a message sent out across the country that this protest was not only unlawful but something to be feared.
Camden Yards morphed from a field into a fortress. It became a stadium dividing a city between haves and have-nots: a barrier erected on the foundations of racial and economic inequality dressed in the trappings of spectacle and sports. That it was built with the tax dollars of those on both sides of the divide just makes the situation all the more dismal.