BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore police disbanded an overnight occupation of City Hall by activists who say they want a voice in the process of selecting a permanent police commissioner, and at least 12 people could be seen being led away to police vehicles early Thursday.
At least 25 police officers converged at the front entrance of the building hours before dawn as activists were still inside participating in a sit-in over numerous demands for better policing. Several of the demonstrators could be seen by an Associated Press reporter as they were led off in plastic handcuffs and loaded into transport vehicles at about 4 a.m.
"It is our duty to fight for our freedom! We have nothing to lose but our chains!" others watching the police operation shouted at the officers.
Police said in a statement posted on their social media site that a small number of protesters had decided to leave after hours of warnings.
"The remaining protesters refused to leave the building. As a direct result of their failure to comply, the remaining protesters have been arrested and charged with trespassing. There are no reported injuries at this time to any protesters or officers," the police statement added.
Police did not elaborate on the number of people arrested or their identities. A message left for Baltimore Police Department spokesman T.J. Smith wasn't immediately returned.
Following the police operation, police were seen leaving and the complex was largely quiet by 5 a.m.
Many of those involved in the protest were student activists. They said they opposed city deliberations to make permanent the interim appointment of Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, adding they had been given no chance for input.
The group also sought a sit-down meeting with Davis and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and had vowed not to leave City Hall until city officials agreed to meet a list of demands that included better treatment for protesters, a significant investment in public schools and social services and a promise that police would avoid wherever possible using armored vehicles and riot gear. In the interest of constitutional rights, the protesters said, they also want officers to always wear badges and name tags.
After protesters were led away, those who participated in the sit-in but had left voluntarily voiced their disappointment with the police response.
"All we are doing is peacefully demonstrating. We were disrespected by Kevin Davis. He didn't take us seriously," said Kevin Wellons, a 19-year-old man who left the sit-in around 3:30 a.m. with several others after a police warning.
Kwame Rose, an organizer who had been with the group for hours, also left with several others before police moved in. Rose said activists will continue to press for police reforms.
"The politicians, they failed us today," Rose said. "All (Davis) had to do was come upstairs for ten minutes. All we wanted was for the commissioner to meet the people he's attacking. And now he's attacking us again."
The 21-year-old activist gained attention when he confronted Fox News journalist Geraldo Rivera about coverage of demonstrations after the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died after suffering a severe injury in police custody. Rose, who is listed in court records as Darius Rosebrough, was arrested last month amid demonstrations during a pretrial hearing in the Gray case. His trial on second-degree assault, disorderly conduct and resisting or interfering with an arrest charges is set for Nov. 9.
A City Council subcommittee voted to make Davis the permanent police commissioner. Davis still has to be approved by the full council, which is to vote on the appointment Monday.
Davis took the interim role in July after predecessor Anthony Batts was fired amid a spike in violent crime in Baltimore. The spike followed unrest and rioting in April after Gray's death.
Members of the Baltimore Uprising coalition, which includes both high school and community activists, began shouting from the upper gallery of City Council chambers as a Council subcommittee prepared for its vote Wednesday.
"All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray!" the activists chanted amid calls to postpone the vote. "No justice, no peace!" The activists then began their sit-in.
If approved by the full council, Davis would earn $200,000 a year under a contract to run through June of 2020.
Three of the subcommittee's five members voted Wednesday in favor of Davis. Councilman Nick Mosby, who is married to State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, voted against the confirmation, while Carl Stokes, who is running for mayor, abstained.
Marilyn Mosby had decided to prosecute six officers in connection with Gray's death. All of the officers are currently awaiting trial. In the aftermath of Mosby's decision and widespread unrest, homicides began to rise and residents in crime-addled neighborhoods accused police officers of abandoning their posts.
Addressing the council subcommittee Wednesday, Davis said he remains committed to training officers to actively engage and interact with community members. Davis also emphasized his commitment to "respect and fight for the right for Americans to assemble and peacefully protest."