As we all know, the riots that took place earlier this week in Baltimore began with a clash between teens and police at Mondawmin Mall in northwest Baltimore, just hours after Freddie Gray’s funeral. However, Mother Jones reports that several parents and teachers have come forward to say that the police didn’t allow kids who just wanted to go home and get away from the situation to do so. If that’s the case, then the announcement that six Baltimore cops were indicted for their role in Gray’s death isn’t the only black eye the Baltimore Police Department has suffered related to this situation.
Just before noon on Monday, Baltimore police got word of social media calls for a “purge”–a reference to “The Purge,” a 2013 film depicting a dystopian future where crime is made legal for one night every year. The knuckleheads behind this “purge” planned to assemble at Mondawmin Mall at around 3 p. m. and walk down Pennsylvania Avenue toward downtown.
However, several parents and teachers say that the great majority of the kids in the area wanted nothing to do with any “purge.” They just wanted to get home as soon as possible. A teacher at Frederick Douglass High School, across the street from the mall, said that many of the students decided to go home early, and some of them even asked teachers to give them rides home. That same teacher said that most of her students had heard about the calls for a “purge,” and to a (wo)man thought “what was going to happen was stupid or were frightened by the idea.”
However, by the time school let out, the police had sealed off roads near the mall and Douglass. They were also stopping buses going through the Mondawmin neighborhood and forcing riders to get off, and shut down the Mondawmin Metro station. This was confirmed by a parent at another elementary school, who tweeted that he’d seen kids asking why they couldn’t get on the bus even though “they NEED those buses and trains in order to get home.”
Just after 3 p. m. on Monday–when the “purge” was due to start–the Baltimore Police Department posted a warning on Facebook to expect traffic delays in the Mondawmin Mall area due to “a group of juveniles” in the vicinity. But if these accounts are to be believed, the great majority of those kids were stuck there because they had no way of getting home. On paper, cordoning off the area made sense. But wouldn’t you think that the police should have coordinated with Baltimore City Schools to allow kids to go home early and get out of the area beforehand? And why didn’t Baltimore City Schools shut down early for the day to give kids a chance to go home? Maybe it’s just me, but that would seem to be Crowd Control 101.
Given the stakes, one really has to wonder–if the police had just let those who wanted to go home to do so, would they have gotten a handle on the situation sooner than they did? Would a weeklong curfew even have been necessary? And would the Baltimore Orioles have been forced to play the Chicago White Sox yesterday behind closed doors, and move their weekend home series against the Tampa Bay Rays to St. Petersburg?
Meg Gibson, a teacher at Belmont Elementary School, told Gawker that she thinks that the police “set up” the kids and “treated them like criminals” before the situation actually boiled over. I’m not sure if I agree. It’s more likely that the police bungled a chance to get innocent people to safety beforehand when they had more than enough time to do so.? Translation: even if there was no racial bias involved, the Baltimore Police Department–and possibly Baltimore City Schools–mishandled this eight ways to Sunday. And that by itself should be enough to get people fired.