Back on the streets of West Baltimore, where demonstrators threw bottles and police fired tear gas and pepper bullets, spirits were high on Friday afternoon.
“We won, they listened, and we did it,’’ shouted a street preacher over a fuzzy microphone. “They heard us, and now we hope for justice!’’
Shirts emblazoned with “I Bleed Baltimore’’ in Orioles’ orange and black dotted the diverse crowd, hours after State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged six officers in Freddie Gray’s death.
Beyond the cars that passed, honking in support of justice for Gray and blaring Bob Marley and gospel legend Shirley Caesar, were the same shirts, their message obscured by blue, red, and black bandanas.
They were all in a crowd, passing cigarillos, shaking hands with passersby and laughing amongst themselves. Baltimore Crips, Bloods, and Black Guerillas, all fierce rivals, have agreed to put aside their differences and work together, according to the men.
“We want this to last forever, and that’s real,’’ said Brian Stewart, a local Crip originally from Delaware who stuck around six years ago after legal troubles. “We came to our understanding so that the kids could see that if we tied our flags together, they can unify and work together, too.’’
He was especially worried for the fate of local kids who looted nearby Mondawmin Mall.
“We saw a whole gang of them running down the street after they messed up the mall,’’ Stewart said.
He said they tried to use their influence to calm the kids down. “They were doing too much,’’ he said. “We know these police, we’ve been attacked and maced and beat down, we wanted to keep them from that.’’
And Stewart was in a unique position to show the power of Baltimore’s sudden unity. His brother Danny Stewart, standing behind him, was adorned with a red flag around his neck. He’s Piru (Blood) in a sea of Crips.
“The whole bulls— about us coming together against the police was made up,’’ Danny said, referencing Baltimore Police’s statement that gangs had united to kill officers. “We love this city, and we did what ain’t never been done out here.’’
While keenly aware of the inherent tension between rival flags, which he laughed off as “misunderstandings between men,’’ Danny is hopeful that peace can last.
Danny mentioned the brief truce in Los Angeles after the riots in the early ’90s as an example. “Their truce was great, but it lasted what, like two months?’’ Danny clears his throat before apologizing. “I’m sorry, this is real to us. Police brutality is all over the country, but we took that first step to show that we were serious about changing things.’’
“We had Crip brothers pushing the line to keep folks back,’’ Danny said, as he leaned away to shake the hand of a passing Crip. “We had red flags, black flags, and blue flags guarding black-owned businesses to keep them safe.’’ He lowers his head and sucks his teeth in disappointment their inability to secure all such businesses.
“We were out here putting out fires. We tried to save them all,’’ he said, “but we at least saved the ones that were close to us.’’