Anger over the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal spinal injury in police custody, erupted on April 27 in riots that devastated West Baltimore. The unrest began when police confronted children coming out of school based on an unsubstantiated rumor that gangs of high schoolers were planning a “purge.”
Witnesses have said the events leading to the riots and looting later that night were actually the result of unnecessary escalation by the police. Police locked down Mondawmin Mall, a major transit hub, just as kids were coming out of school. That decision trapped a mass of teenagers at Mondawmin who were trying to get home. A protest planned at the same time was going to march from the mall to downtown Baltimore.
Teachers at a nearby school who witnessed the beginning of the confrontations said that kids were stranded inside the police blockade, angry but not violent until cops started marching at them in riot gear. Then police reported that kids started throwing bottles and bricks, prompting police to hit them with tear gas and rubber bullets. Over the next few hours, riots escalated, officers were injured, and someone lit a CVS on fire.
But hours before the lockdown and ensuing violence, the department issued a statement that there was “credible information that members of various gangs…have entered into a partnership to ‘take-out’ law enforcement officers.” Gang members told reporters the truce was not to kill cops but to show solidarity with protesters and attempt to keep the peace during the unrest.
The fundraiser for the “Baltimore Six” directs funds for the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police #3, but the FOP told WBALTV it has nothing to do with the design or production of the T-shirt and has not received any money yet. Another fundraiser for the officers fell flat when former BPD officer Bobby Berger offered to perform in blackface.
The FOP may be distancing itself from the T-shirt, but the militaristic mindset of police, particularly when dealing with police brutality protesters, is far more entrenched than just this one shirt design. National Guard internal memos explicitly referred to Black Lives Matter protesters in Ferguson, Missouri as “enemy forces” and “adversaries.” After police confronted Ferguson protesters with a bevy of military vehicles and weapons, the federal government has slowly started to staunch the flow of military surplus equipment to local police departments, including grenade launchers, tanks, bayonets, and camouflage uniforms.