The numbers were not nearly what City officials predicted (1000), but there were about 200-300 peaceful protestors (according to a DGS officer at Lawyer’s Mall) who took to the streets of Annapolis to protest police brutality. The crowd was on time, polite, and respectful. It was everything that the police had hoped. Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop, and Alderpersons Kirby, Budge, Arnett, and Finlayson all marched with the group from City Dock, up Main Street to Church Circle where they had a “kneel-in” and prayer. From there they marched to the statue of Roger Taney on the grounds of the State House. Taney was the Supreme Court Chief Justice who read the Dred Scott decision that ruled, among other things, that African-Americans, having been considered inferior at the time the Constitution was drafted, were not part of the original community of citizens and, whether free or slave, could not be considered citizens of the United States. Finally, the group moved to a final prayer session at Lawyer’s Mall at the foot of the steps of the Capitol.
However, it came at a cost. Without knowing how the protest would turn out, the City acted (overreacted?) with an abundance of caution in their preparations. Some similar protest marches like this have turned violent including a recent one in Baltimore a few weeks ago. Cars were removed from the streets, trash cans removed, stores were admonished to bring in any outside fixtures. Several other law enforcement agencies were involved, a helicopter circled above, and officers were implanted in the crowd and marched along with the protesters. We have been unable to determine the cost to the City for this effort.
Another unknown is the economic cost to the local merchants. This march happened on a Friday evening, on one of the busiest weekends of the year, two weeks before Christmas. We spoke with several merchants who experienced significant drops in volume and cancellations of reservations due to a perceived fear.
And the fear was indeed perceived to a degree. Just as the numbers floated yesterday did not materialize, the feared violence did not materialize either. The organizers of the march called for a peaceful gathering, but one did not need to go far on social media to see that there were others who talked about inciting violence. The legitimate fear was that these two factions might overlap at some point and violence, as seen in other locations, might erupt. In fact, disparaging remarks toward the Annapolis police were overheard–yet the Annapolis and Anne Arundel Police have not been accused of brutality or shooting unarmed people.
The City warned of acts of civil disobedience as well and they came to fruition with a protest (not affiliated with the peaceful one in the evening) at Forest Drive and Spa Road. Protesters gathered around 330pm and blocked the highly trafficked road. There was a lot of criticism of the police for how this was handled. Blocking the road is against the law and the protesters should have been cited accordingly.
Civil disobedience is a symbolic or ritualistic violation of the law, rather than a rejection of the system as a whole. The civil disobedient, finding legitimate avenues of change blocked or nonexistent, sees himself as obligated by a higher, extralegal principle to break some specific law. By submitting to punishment, the civil disobedient hopes to set a moral example that will provoke the majority or the government into effecting meaningful political, social, or economic change.
However, they weren’t and the police actually aided their protest by allowing them to continue to break the law while directing throngs of agitated commuters to alternate routes. A more sensible approach would have been to allow the protestors to assemble, allow them to make their statement and then move them off the highway or face being arrested. “After serving in the Navy, I fully respect and want people to be able to protest peacefully.” said State Delegate Herb McMillan who represents the Annapolis area. However, if they are looking to deliberately break the law, their right to protest ends where our right to travel and conduct our business begins. If that comes to be, the protesters should be removed from the road and charged accordingly.” The way this was handled opens a can of worms for the police department. Can the developers of Crystal Spring also stop traffic to make a statement? Can the groups that oppose Crystal Spring do the same?
–MORE TO THE STORY BELOW THE GALLERY–
Images © 2014 Glenn A. Miller / Glenn A. Miller Photography for Eye On Annapolis
Where Was The Permit?
The City did not require the group to get a permit for this march and cited the “first amendment.” The First Amendment gives the right for peaceful assembly, but not to block traffic and disrupt the economics of the City. The group had the right to march up on a sidewalk with their message, but the City allowed them to shut down multiple streets during a busy rush hour on a Friday evening. Most parades in Annapolis require a permit along with the fee, an insurance policy, and reimbursement for any police overtime or expenses incurred because of the event. Will the City waive the process for those that want to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade or the Independence Day Parade, or the Military Bowl Parade later this month?
The Real Message
The real message was that there is an issue in our nation (not necessarily in our area) that needs to be addressed. Reverend Stephen Tillett of the Asbury Broadneck United Methodist Church summed it up well. When a few members of a group do something stupid, the whole group tends to be labeled the same way. He explained that this march was not against the police, but against police brutality and excessive force by the rogue cops. He asked the assembled crowd to look beyond color and cited the many different colors that have worshiped with him in his church. Tillett explained that the portion of DNA that separates a black man from a white man is about half of one percent. He asked the crowd to envision a stack of 100 pennies and to take one away and cut it “sort of” in half. “That,” he said “is the difference.” The message was clear that we are all one people. The message was also clear that there is work to be done. The Pastor talked of three changes they want to see changed–none of which are unreasonable.
- An independent special prosecutor to deal with any police brutality or police involved shooting cases
- Elimination of the grand jury
- Civilian panels to perform investigations when an office is accused of excessive force or brutality
Pastor Tillett also commented about the comments everyone had seen on various social media sites leading into the protest. His take was that it was good. It illustrated that there was work to be done, and they likely incentivized many who would not have come out to the march to come out and lend their support.
Social Media Firestorm
And regarding the social media. The past two days, I have received many tweets, phone calls and emails about the postings on our Facebook page. We had several postings merely informing our audience about the rally and passed along information as we heard it. The comments took on a life of their own. Some were well reasoned and logical–many were not. Some were thoughtful, others were downright mean. We were asked repeatedly to either censor or edit the comments; or to remove the posts completely. We did not. And here is why.
The march tonight was largely based on the First Amendment and the right to assemble and protest. The First Amendment also gives the right to free speech. On all platforms, we have never edited comments. Occasional comments are deleted when they are a direct attack on an individual or are repetitively vulgar, but for the most part, they are left in tact and I believe our readers appreciate that. I certainly did not agree with the some of the comments and quite frankly would have preferred to not see them. But that is not, nor has it ever been our policy. Out of respect to our readers, we will not allow another reader to dictate our content because they happen to have a different viewpoint.
In The End
In the end, the protest march was a great peaceful event in Annapolis. A few hundred people came together to and accomplished their goal of getting people to think. To think that we need many more conversations. To think before we act. And to remember that we should not be judging the whole, based on the actions of a few.