Baltimore police commissioner: ‘There is a sense of rage and rightly so’ – USA TODAY

BALTIMORE — Thursday night, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts walked alongside dozens of officers asking people to go home and to obey the city’s 10 p.m. curfew.

Standing across from a burned-out CVS that has become the epicenter of protests, Batts told USA TODAY police wanted to allow people to express their freedom of speech and that officers were striving to take a measured approach to the demonstrations.

“There is a sense of rage and rightly so,” Batts told USA TODAY. “The Constitution says you should have the right to protest in the street and walk to get your point across. So that’s what we facilitate.”

National attention is fixated on Baltimore after 10 days of protests following the death of Freddie Gray, 25, a black man who died of a severe spinal injury April 19 while in police custody. Tensions exploded into violence Monday. Clashes between police and demonstrators led arrests of more than 200 protesters and injuries to 20 police officers.

He explained that officers want to keep everyone safe but not stifle demonstrations.

“We stand on the side and try to allow people to voice their opinions, voice their rage, voice their concerns,” Batts said. “We had a young man lose his life. I think that’s a critical issue.”

Batts said he grew up in South Central Los Angeles and pointed out that after the 1965 Watts Riots, parts of the city never quite recovered. He said he hopes Baltimore’s infrastructure won’t suffer the same sad fate. Instead, his department will be working hard to regain the public’s trust.

“The organization has a long history of causing pain in the community but we are trying to evolve it and change it into something different,” Batts said. “We are trying step by step to build relationships.”

He added that officers are attempting to connect with people and pointed out that he requires officers to spend at least 30 minutes a day walking around the communities they patrol.

“There is so much distrust here,” Batts said. “I think it’s going to take a long time of inch-by-inch-building relationships and growing in the right direction.”

The commissioner said he’s hopeful this tumultuous part of the city’s history will lead to positive changes.

“I think out of challenges come opportunities,” Batts said. “I hope a year from now this just doesn’t become a memory. I hope we take Mr. Gray’s passing and use that to bring the city together to move forward.”

Meanwhile, Batts says he anticipates his department’s report on Gray’s death that was handed over to the state’s attorney’s office Thursday will become public information at some point.

“There’s nothing for us to hide,” Batts said. “We have just been asked by the state’s attorney to allow her to speak to that because it’s her case now.”