Here’s what I saw on my bike today. I saw my dentist in Waverly, people waiting for the bus at 33rd, the quick shift of neighborhoods from Greenmount to Barclay to Guilford, Calvert, and St. Paul. I saw the last round of flower trees by the art museum and Hopkins, and the bright greens of Gwynns Falls. I saw some guys playing basketball in Druid Hill Park, and three joggers making their way around the reservoir. I followed the sound of the police helicopter around the park, past the conservatory, and up to Liberty Heights Avenue where I took a left.
I got off my bike to walk across the maze of streets that come together at the bus depot here, and I noticed all the police cars and vans gathering in the parking lot. Cops were milling about, and I joined them, along with the folks waiting for buses–where there are buses there is waiting, always. I started taking pictures of cops, and of the high school kids that were making their way from across the street–Douglass Academy–in their khakis and orange polo shirts, heading to the bus. A group milled about in the parking lot across from the cops. I snapped pictures of kids snapping selfies with the cops in the background, who started putting on their riot helmets. I saw other cops open a van and start pulling out shields and a bucket full of batons. “Somebody’s going to need that today,” I heard a cop say.
I saw cops don their gear and kids walk up to the line of cops and chant, “Hands up/Don’t shoot!” I saw cops move forward in a group and kids race away, laughing and joking, because they’re teenagers, and it all seemed so ridiculous. I saw that line of cops move forward, back, and over to the right as they moved the kids in different directions. Kids ran away, ran toward them, tried to get on buses, but the buses stayed empty and drove away. I saw this stand off, the cops lined up against a few kids, a couple of whom threw water bottles at the cops, those bottles bouncing off the shields. I saw one kid throw a rock, and another kid rush that kid and tell him to fucking stop throwing shit what the fuck is wrong with you.
I stepped off to the side, but the police lines were moving so quickly it was hard to stay out of their way. I stood with my bike off to the side and had my only real moment of fear, when the crowd of kids ran directly at me. What are we running from and how do I run with my bike? The whole situation went from kids hanging out in a parking lot to cops in full riot gear and police helicopters flying low above us and a tactical vehicle driving straight at groups of kids in maybe 20 minutes–the cops mean business, and being in their path is terrifying. I walked my bike across the street, chatted with a woman in a car who wanted to know what was up–be safe, she told me, as she drove away–and talked with a guy who told me all these kids need to get jobs–or join the army, which is what he did, and he got food, a bed, and some good looking women. I watched a man weep at what he was seeing, and I talked to three girls who wanted to know if I lived in the neighborhood–nope, just going to Target–and then wondered how they were going to get home with the buses not running.
I watched Police Commissioner Batts chase after two boys, one of them tripped or got knocked down, and screamed at Batts: “WHY???” Batts stormed away, coming back to grab his cell phone, which he dropped. Don’t they train for that? Don’t you use a phone holster when you’re heading to the mall for a little hand-to-hand combat with children? I snapped picture after picture, catching my breath at how quickly things can go from teenagers causing trouble at the mall to a full on police state, and finally decided to head home. I snaked through some side streets on my way, thinking to myself that the vacant homes all over this neighborhood are the real criminal activity in West Baltimore, but this story would obscure that complexity again, because here we have The Event. And then I rode the rest of the three miles home and went to the grocery store and made a stir fry and settled in for an evening of “news.” Stay safe, I heard so many times today. No justice, no peace–it’s not just a chant.