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Community activists help calm Baltimore unrest

Local organizers urge restraint, forming human barriers between police and rioters as curfew continues

BALTIMORE, Maryland — Baltimore breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday, as anger over the death of Freddie Gray failed to coalesce into the violence that had gripped this city since Monday.

Residents of Sandtown, where Gray lived, credit community activists with discouraging vandalism and keeping protesters from confronting police, who have returned to regular uniforms after donning riot gear on Tuesday.

Groups like 300 Men, a local anti-violence organization, were out in force on Tuesday night, urging young people to go home at 10 p.m., when a citywide curfew went into effect. Gray’s family also appealed for calm.

"We're doing the same thing as always, trying to spread peace and love,” said Juan Nance, 38, a schoolteacher and organizer at 300 Men, which gets its name from an ancient Greek battle in which 300 Spartan soldiers held off their adversaries against overwhelming odds. “Love and peace will always conquer in a hostile situation," he said.

During protests Tuesday night, community activists joined arms and created a barrier between protesters and police in riot gear on North Avenue. The activists advanced on the crowd starting at 9 p.m., urging them to go home before the curfew.

But they also say that the efforts of family members and friends managed to keep impulsive youth from resorting to clashes to vent their outrage. Many who tried to maintain calm Tuesday volunteered on the spot.

“I think it’s good for them to be out there keeping us from getting locked up,” said Khalil Green, 19, referring to community groups. “But we gotta get out our rage, with our voices,” he said, as he hung out near the corner of Pennsylvania Ave. and North Ave., where a nearby CVS store, looted and burned on Monday, still gave off the stinging smell of burned plastic and chemicals.

In the Gilmore Homes, just blocks from the corner, furious residents blamed outsiders for destroying neighborhood institutions like Mama’s Place, a corner store that was burned on Monday. Its windows are now covered by plywood.

“Nobody from this neighborhood would have done that because of the love Mama had for us. I wish I could see her to tell her how I feel about her,” said Kevon Starke, 20, a Gilmore Homes resident who said he had stopped others from making poor choices.

Rosa Mobley, 60, a Baltimore resident for 56 years, said the problem is that the police have taken the job of parenting out of the hands of parents. 

“It’s okay for the police to beat 'em but it’s not okay for us to beat em?” asked Mobley. “Give us our kids back, and it won’t happen. We will correct our kids.”

Juan Bradley, who says he knew Gray, said Gray would have been the first person to condemn the violence.

“He was an energetic, very respectful, a prankster,” said Bradley, 27. “He didn’t fight, he didn’t steal.”

Kevin Moore, 28, another Gilmore Homes resident, filmed a video of Gray’s arrest. He said the rioting stems from a lack of patience in today’s youth, who are accustomed to getting what they want immediately.

“I don’t condone any rioting, but I got a feeling they’re going to riot again,” Moore said.

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