BALTIMORE, Maryland — Racial protests supposed to be peaceful quickly turned into violent riots on Saturday evening, closing down the city of Baltimore for some time—and creating a panic for thousands of people as just 50 miles away elites in Washington partied with President Barack Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
Personally, I wasn’t supposed to be on the job tonight as a reporter. After a long news week and as several of my contemporaries lived high on the hog down in D.C. at the so-called “Nerd Prom,” me and my brother left D.C. to go see our Boston Red Sox play the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards I hate the White House Correspondents’ Dinner—it represents everything I think is wrong with Washington, making celebrities out of news media and politicians—and given the fact I grew up just outside Boston I figured seeing the Red Sox play in Baltimore would be a great reprieve from the political culture. Boy was I wrong.
My brother and I arrived in Baltimore just outside Camden Yards about an hour before the game, and went into Bullpen Bar—one of three iconic all-brick building bars right outside the stadium—for a beer before the Sox took on the O’s. I usually make it up here for a game or two every year, and have always found Orioles fans to be pleasant. We’re united in our hatred of the Yankees.
Bullpen Bar sits between Pickles Pub and Sliders Bar & Grill. Outside each of the brick-faced bars, on the days of Orioles Games, each bar puts out barricades about 20 feet from their front doors. Shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of fans from each team—the Orioles, and in the case of Saturday night, the Red Sox—pack into three bars and the barricaded-off space in front before each game. Inside and outside of each, bartenders serve “cheap beer”—or so the $6-per-tall-boy-cans are advertised on big signs—while hotdogs, sausages and other pastime favorites are sold by each and by vendors who set up tents across the street. The blue collar culture—and really friendly people—are what make Baltimore baseball games so much fun, and there’s no better place to kick off an adventure into Camden Yards than here.
But on Saturday night, after my brother and I finished off our beers at Bullpen and began walking across the street to the stadium, planning to make our way to our seats after getting inside, chaos broke out.
Several people across the street from these bars—between there and the stadium, which is less than 100 yards away—were holding signs that said #BlackLivesMatter. They were protesting the death of Freddie Gray, who Agence France Press newswire wrote “died last Sunday from spinal injuries, a week after his arrest in the city’s impoverished west side.”
“In a press conference Friday, officials acknowledged Gray should have received medical help at the moment of his arrest, when he was seen by bystanders — and caught on video — howling in apparent pain,” AFP wrote, providing the background of the simmering tensions in the mid-Atlantic port town. “They also revealed that Gray, contrary to police department policy, was not buckled into his seat in the van, which made at least three unexplained stops on its way to the Western District police station. Gray died Sunday with 80 percent of his spine severed at the neck, lawyers for his family have said. His funeral is scheduled for Monday. Six officers have been suspended with pay as the police investigation inches closer to a May 1 deadline to submit findings to a Maryland state prosecutor, who could decide to press charges.”
All of a sudden—literally as my brother and I walked out of Bullpen—everything went haywire. What were peaceful marchers holding up signs turned into violent rioters. Innocent fans standing by were confronted by the rioters, who physically and verbally threateningly engaged many of them—and then the protesters got even more violent.
All of a sudden, beer bottles and cans, and other projectiles were lobbed by the protesters into the crowds of fans. To get those projectiles, the protesters stole them forcibly from the bartenders and vendors set up outside each of those three bars. One beer can whizzed by my brother’s face, missing him by about six inches, and more flew all over the crowded area.
The crowd of protesters then stopped a blue station wagon carrying a white family as they tried to drive past Pickles, Bullpen and Sliders along a narrow one-way stretch between the bars and the main road. As a horde of them smashed their open and closed fists on the hood of the car—while impeding them by standing in front of them—the driver backed up on the one way pass in a desperate attempt to get out of dodge. Then, stopped on the other side with nowhere to go, protesters ripped open the passenger door of the car and began reaching around inside the vehicle. As hundreds of people looked on, including several police officers who didn’t engage the violent protesters, the white woman in the front seat—middle-aged and a little heavyset with dark hair—was visibly terrified. The group of black men who ripped open the car door suddenly realized they were separated from the larger group of protesters and abandoned their quest to seemingly either carjack the station wagon or rob the people inside in front of hundreds, driving out of the one-way street back onto the main road and presumably out of dodge.
As projectiles continued flying everywhere from each part of the crowd—like a war-zone—another black man then charged into the crowd of Red Sox and Orioles fans standing outside Pickles Pub and tore the metal barricades apart throwing them into the now-crowded one-way pass where the assaulted station wagon was a moment ago.
My brother, at this point, was screaming at the group of five or so police officers. “Why aren’t you doing anything? They’re hurting people! They’re hurting people! They’re violent!” he yelled at them as they continued ignoring him and not engaging or attempting to stop the violence.
I had been trying—unsuccessfully, as I never use my phone for this—to capture some useful videos and photos of what was going on. My reporter gear, including an iPad I specifically use for the purpose of covering this kind of thing, was back in my apartment just outside D.C. and I really never take photos or video with my phone. After I went back through them later, in the middle of the chaos, they all came out blurry and unusable.
Nonetheless, fearing for my safety and for my brother’s safety, at this point I grabbed him and pulled him aside—and said “we need to go, we need to go into the stadium.”
We moved along as fast as we could around Camden Yards to get inside—Orioles officials had closed down several gates that are normally open so we had to go almost halfway around the place to get in—and got through the gate as I Tweeted updates of what I saw and what went down so hopefully other media would pull through and cover the violence that was going on. Well, I’d find out later, of course they wouldn’t—they were too busy praising themselves at Nerd Prom. But my brother and I made it to our seats and hoped it all would be over soon, and the game would go on as planned.
The game started without a hitch, and while fans buzzed and hissed back and forth in discussion about the insanity going on outside, it all seemed to be fine—and mostly under control—so my brother and I went back to enjoying the Sox face off against the Orioles.
As the game progressed, however, the situation outside throughout Baltimore clearly got worse. All of a sudden, several police helicopters took to the skies and fans sitting around us talked about how they got text messages from friends watching the news at home throughout the Baltimore area warning them to get out of the stadium while they still could.
The game was close, and at about 9:45 p.m.—2 hours and 45 minutes into the game—an announcement came over the loudspeaker in the stadium: The mayor of Baltimore, due to a public safety emergency outside, had “asked” everyone inside to stay in the stadium and not try to leave.
The Red Sox had just tied what was a 3-2 Baltimore lead in the top of the ninth inning. It was headed to at least the bottom of the ninth, and perhaps extra innings, so we went to run to the bathroom together real fast and then found the gate right there—E-1—was locked and several Orioles staffers were standing in front of it. I asked one of them if we were allowed to leave, and they said no. We were, along with the 15,000 or so still in the stadium, being forcibly kept there by the Baltimore mayor’s authority. Several people around us lamented that the Orioles should open the bars back up—they stop serving alcohol after the seventh inning stretch—and give out free beer due to the chaos.
My brother and I got back to our seats in time to see the Orioles blow it in the bottom of the ninth and got ready for extra innings. In the top of the tenth, the Red Sox took the lead 4-3 and the Baltimore mayor’s decision to keep everyone in the stadium remained in effect. If the Orioles didn’t exactly tie in the bottom of the tenth—and the mayor’s decision remained in effect—there would be 15,000 people trying to leave who couldn’t. All of a sudden, then, another announcement came over the loudspeaker and on the big screen at the park: the mayor lifted the ban on people leaving the stadium. Thank God, because the Orioles won it in the bottom of the tenth inning with a walk off home run—and right after they hit it, my brother and I bolted out of the stadium and hopped in a Baltimore city cab, which we took all the way back to our apartment just outside D.C. The cabbie told us the protests that were going on all night were “crazy.” After everything that went down, the Red Sox loss hurt much less than seeing a great city–Baltimore–turn into madness.