Baltimore City Officials Prepare for Protests during Freddie Gray Court Hearings

© Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun via AP Andre Powell, left, an organizer with Baltimore People's Power Assembly, and Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, president of the Baltimore SCLC, lead a march on North Avenue in Baltimore, Saturday, Aug. 8 2015, the…
© Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun via AP Andre Powell, left, an organizer with Baltimore People’s Power Assembly, and Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, president of the Baltimore SCLC, lead a march on North Avenue in Baltimore, Saturday, Aug. 8 2015, the…

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday that city officials are preparing for protests as court hearings ramp up in the Freddie Gray case by coordinating with law enforcement agencies around the state, upgrading riot gear and conducting crowd-control training.

The mayor also said officials plan to hold educational sessions in schools to explain the justice system to students.

Over the next two weeks, court hearings will be held to consider several key issues in the Gray case, including whether charges against police officers should be dismissed, whether Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby should be recused and whether the trials should be moved out of Baltimore. The first is scheduled for Wednesday.

Rawlings-Blake, who has defended the city’s response to the unrest and rioting that followed Gray’s death in April, stressed that most protests over police brutality have been nonviolent.

“We’ve identified potential flash points over the next year, and the motions hearing is one of those,” Rawlings-Blake said. “While we’re preparing, I don’t want people to lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of the protests were peaceful. The challenge is when a few people hijack the peaceful protest.”

Gray, 25, died after suffering a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody. Six officers involved in his arrest and transport in a police van have been charged with crimes ranging from murder to assault. All of the officers have pleaded not guilty.

On Thursday, Baltimore police plan to meet with law enforcement agencies from around Maryland to discuss preparing for “potential civil unrest” during the hearings, according to a memo obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

Col. Charles Kohler, a spokesman for the Maryland National Guard, confirmed that senior military leaders plan to attend the meeting. The Guard, which deployed in Baltimore to help restore order after the riots, recently carried out civil disturbance training at a facility in Edgewood.

Others attending the meeting include top police officials from Baltimore County, Carroll County, Anne Arundel County and the Maryland State Police, those agencies said.

T.J. Smith, chief spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department, said the department is hosting the meeting to discuss law enforcement preparedness, including during the court hearings in the Gray case. The meeting is “one of many” held in the months since the unrest, both with law enforcement and other groups, he said.

“We’ve met with the chiefs of each college in Baltimore. We’ve met with community leaders and church groups and other community activists, all in an effort to continue our community outreach and engagement, to have a plan as we get closer to some significant dates involved in the trial of the six officers,” Smith said.

“This is communication and making sure that everyone who needs to have a seat at the table and be involved is involved,” he said. “We hope we’re preparing for no reason, but we need to prepare, and that’s the responsible thing to do for public safety.”

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Source: Baltimore Sun | Luke Broadwater

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