Article21 Race Relations Meeting-001

Baltimore City councilman Nick Mosby speaks to a few remaining demonstrators, including Tre Murphy of Baltimore Bloc (seated in blue and white windbreaker), in the aftermath of a shoving match between persons affiliated with the event organizers and protesters. (AFRO Photo/Roberto Alejandro)

(Updated 1/9/2015) A town hall meeting and panel discussion on improving race relations in Baltimore City devolved into a confrontation between members of the 300 Men March Movement and demonstrators who interrupted the forum, demanding that their representatives replace those that had been selected for the panel.

The town hall began with introductions by the event’s organizers, Munir Bahar, executive director of COR Fitness and co-founder of the 300 Men March Movement; and Lorena Lues, CEO of Utopia Wellness. After the panel addressed the first question regarding the upbringing of more tolerant children, Bahar followed by asking what role religion should play in healing the racial divide.

Before anyone could answer, demonstrators stood up and conducted a “mic check,” a call and response chant explaining the cause of their protest.

“By holding this public forum centered around police brutality, without adequate representation of those people who are directly affected, and people who do this work, city and public officials have failed us in their jobs, it is for this reason that the program must go no further,” chanted protesters, led by Tre Murphy of Baltimore Bloc.

“We are taking back the power that has been stolen from us,” they continued. “Should you continue without giving space for three of our representatives to talk about the real issues that public officials have failed to address, we will resist. These acts of state sanctioned violence will not continue. We who believe in freedom, we who believe in democracy, we who believe in a better America, will not rest until we’ve won, for our very lives depend on it.”

Murphy then demanded that three panel members remove themselves in favor of three of their members, before promptly ordering four of the panelists to remove themselves from where they were seated.

This led to Bahar calling on members of his 300 Men March Movement street engagement unit, volunteers who patrol difficult neighborhoods in Baltimore City in an effort to reduce violence, to form a line between the demonstrators and the panelists. Tensions quickly rose as demonstrators seemed to interpret this as an act of aggression.

“I’m asking everybody for respect,” Bahar shouted as he was pinched between his volunteers and the demonstrators and the room’s din became greater. “I’m asking you for respect.”

While most involved were careful not to let things escalate beyond words, a handful of persons on both sides seemed more interested in instigation, which eventually led to a brief shoving match quelled by folks from both camps. While the skirmish was brief and resulted in no apparent injuries, one woman with the protesters claimed that she had been hit by one of the 300 volunteers.

The police soon arrived and Councilman Brandon Scott. a co-founder of the 300 Men Movement who sponsored and attended the event, conferred with them outside the room where the event was taking place, asking that no one be arrested.  Councilman Nick Mosby, another sponsor of the event who said he had reserved the space in the War Memorial Building for the forum, attempted to mediate between the organizers and the protesters. The police never directly engaged anyone in the crowd, letting Mosby and Scott set the tone and take the lead in settling the situation. The simple presence of the police, however, did seem to bring the temperature down significantly.

Most of the demonstrators, 300 volunteers, panelists, and crowd left the room shortly after the police arrived, and Mosby offered an olive branch as he spoke to Murphy and a few remaining demonstrators in a significantly emptier room.

“What I’ll do is, we’ll set this up again,” said Mosby. “We’ll have everybody come out again. The people that don’t like each other, the people that are on different teams, whatever. We’re going to all come together and we’re going to really talk…But it has to be in a way that folks can get their perspectives out, that folks can get their visions out, that folks can get their thoughts out.”