BPD has a ‘contingency’ for protests over George Floyd’s death, city announces mental health effort for COVID-19

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Photo by Elvert Barnes, via Flickr

The Baltimore Police Department has a “contingency” for protests in Baltimore over the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd in police custody, and has been in touch with Maryland State Police, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said.

Harrison said the plan covers small groups and large ones, and short-term demonstrations and prolonged ones. The BPD has been in contact with state police and, through them, the Maryland National Guard if “we need them for any prolonged demonstration that should go beyond our capacity,” he said.

But he said the primary goal of the department’s plan is to allow people to protest “peaceably,” adding that it will keep demonstrators and everyone in the public safe.

Many officers were provided updated training on crowd control procedures in March to prepare for possible unrest in the event of supply shortages during the pandemic, Harrison said, though not everyone on the force has gone through the program.

Earlier today BPD learned of a protest planned to start in downtown Baltimore at 6 p.m., Harrison said.

Video of Floyd’s arrest showed Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, driving his knee into Floyd’s neck for eight minutes. Floyd, a black man, was pinned to the ground and exclaimed multiple times, “I can’t breathe!” Two other officers were attempting to arrest Floyd as another looked on.

Floyd was pulled over after allegedly attempting to buy groceries with a counterfeit $20 bill.

All four officers involved in the incident were fired and Chauvin on Friday was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

Both Harrison and Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young condemned the actions that led to Floyd’s death.

Harrison said Floyd’s death “at the hands of law enforcement is both deeply horrific and heartbreaking.”

He called the video of Floyd being pinned to the ground “disturbing.”

“No human deserves to be treated the way Mr. Floyd was treated, repeatedly begging for his life,” Young said.

Floyd’s death has touched off demonstrations across the country. In Floyd’s hometown of Minneapolis, protesters have been in the streets since May 26. They were met with tear gas and rubber bullets, and eventually began looting businesses and setting buildings–including a police station–on fire.

The images of Floyd’s arrest, clashes between police and protesters, and buildings ablaze brought back memories of the death of Freddie Gray in police custody and the Baltimore Uprising in 2015.

“Some of our protesters took to looting and burning establishments, which I don’t condone,” Young said. “We could express ourselves in other ways, being more civil and not destroying things in our own neighborhoods and in our own communities.”

But Young said he understood why the video of Floyd’s arrest upset people, saying that it sent chills through his body as an African-American man. If he were walking down the street of another city and fit a particular description, it could happen to him too, the mayor said.

“I’m concerned about the male members of my own family,” he said, “and of young black boys here in Baltimore.”

Young said he was one of the first lawmakers to call for a Department of Justice investigation of the Baltimore Police Department over its treatment of citizens, particularly people who live in black neighborhoods. The report, released in 2016, found that officers routinely abused the rights of black Baltimoreans.

Both Young and Harrison said the agency is making necessary reforms through the federally monitored consent decree.

“The Baltimore Police Department remains committed to rebuilding and earning the trust of the communities we serve through fair, equitable and dignified treatment of all in our fight for justice,” Harrison said.

The mayor also acknowledged that footage from Minneapolis could be traumatic for Baltimoreans who lived through the unrest in 2015, and the ongoing pandemic provides traumas all its own.

Young today tapped City Councilman Zeke Cohen (District 1) to lead a mental health recovery effort in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative will expand access to mental health resources for residents, map community institutions providing help and create opportunities for Baltimoreans to help each other.

Cohen previously worked with Councilman Kristerfer Burnett (District 8) to create the Baltimore Neighbors Network to connect with seniors and other groups who may feel isolated and lonely as they are asked to stay in their homes to slow the spread of the virus.

In addition to seniors who may be afraid of getting the virus, children and people who have lost their jobs may also be struggling to cope.

Cohen said that compounds the trauma many black Baltimoreans experience from systemic racism in the city and across the country, pointing to the video of Floyd’s arrest and footage of the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a black Georgia man who was gunned down by a white father and son who claimed they believed Arbery was a suspect in recent burglaries in their neighborhood.

“The fact that we continue to see videos, and that people of color, black folks in our city,  continue to see these videos of people being killed, is in itself traumatic,” he said.

Brandon Weigel

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