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BALTIMORE POLICE HARASS RALLY: BUS RIDERS BOYCOTT OVER FARE HIKE (english)
by Workers World
Email: boston (nospam) workers.org
06 Jul 2003
By Workers World Baltimore bureau
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the July 10, 2003
issue of Workers World newspaper
BALTIMORE POLICE HARASS RALLY: BUS RIDERS BOYCOTT OVER FARE HIKE
By Workers World Baltimore bureau
A massive police presence greeted community and union activists as they gathered June 27 for a 4 p.m. rush-hour protest on the corner of
Saratoga and Eutaw Streets in downtown Baltimore.
The All Peoples Congress and Transit Riders League had called the
protest to oppose a Mass Transit Authority plan to increase bus fare
from $1.35 to $1.60 and make cuts in bus service. The activists also
planned the activity to publicize a call for a one-day bus boycott
against the MTA on July 1.
City police lined the route the groups planned to walk to the MTA
offices at Baltimore and Light streets. A special force of MTA police
gathered at the corner where protesters set up a picket line.
Immediately city police threatened to arrest members of the group if
they used a hand-held bullhorn for chanting.
Despite police intimidation, bus riders continued to take flyers and
shouted their approval of the protest. Demonstrators chanted as loudly
as possible. Police continued to harass the group, yelling at them to
keep walking despite the participation of several activists in
wheelchairs and elderly people who used canes and needed to rest in the sweltering weather.
Some who tried to get to the action later reported they were not able to get past the heavy police presence.
At 5 p.m. demonstrators arrived at the state office building, which
houses the MTA offices. In addition to city police, the group
encountered dozens of state police.
State Sen. Verna Jones addressed the group, along with local ministers
and community activists. Police then grabbed Sharon Ceci, a volunteer
coordinator for the bus boycott and organizer for the All Peoples
Congress, telling her that they were writing a criminal citation for the use of a sound system.
Bill Henry, a well-known community activist and aide to former City
Council President Mary Pat Clarke, complained that this was
unconstitutional and illegal behavior on the part of the police. He used the bullhorn to say that if they were going to cite Ceci, then they should cite everyone.
All the protesters agreed. Police then began to write up citations for
Ralph Moore, a long-time community activist, chairperson Eugene Peterson of the Transit Rider's League and several other participants. When the police realized that close to 50 people had lined up to be cited, they appeared frustrated and angry.
The police captain in charge approached activist Jeff Bigelow, who was
holding the bullhorn. The captain shouted, "M-----r f----r, none of you are going to get away with this. You are under arrest for assault."
Bigelow, a union organizer with AFSCME Council 92, was taken away in
handcuffs. He was charged with assault and use of a sound system. The
police confiscated the group's bullhorn.
Without a megaphone, Ceci gathered the crowd: "What the police have done here today is illegal and unconstitutional. We will not be silenced. It is not we who should be arrested or given citations. Instead it should be Maryland Secretary of Transportation Robert Flanagan and Gov. Robert Ehrlich for jeopardizing the welfare of thousands of bus riders and low-wage workers. Layoffs, cutbacks, war and racism are a crime. Community activists who are speaking out against bus fare hikes are not the criminals.
"It is important that we keep our movement together and that we remain
strong. Ehrlich is about to lay off thousands of workers and cut social programs while President George Bush can spend billions to wage war and occupy Iraq. We will not be intimidated."
She motivated those gathered to attend the July 28 hearing of the six
people given criminal citations.
The activist group gathered the following morning to continue its
efforts to organize for the July 1 bus boycott. Renee Washington, Betsy Oakes and Sharon Ceci met with volunteer drivers and bus riders to plan a boycott orientation.
Florence Gross came to the group's headquarters to talk about her
hardships as a Baltimore bus rider. She is a private-duty nurse who must leave her apartment each day at 4:15 a.m. to be able to get to work by 6:30 a.m.
Gross explained that the buses are packed at that time in the morning.
Most people have to stand and in many cases the air-conditioning doesn't work. "If the bus doesn't show up," she related, "I have to take a cab, which can cost me as much as $15, more than I make in two hours' time at work."
She rides each morning with a score of people going to Curtis Bay to
work in factories making dog food and clothing or to do private-duty
work. All of her fellow riders have heard about the boycott, either on
the radio or through flyers and posters. They are in support.
Gross, who had come to the office to arrange transportation for those at her bus stop, also related these hardships to a number of young people who were active in the recent protests against the war. They had come into the office to pick up orange signs that read "Boycott vehicle" and "Justice for bus riders."
After hearing first-hand the conditions of bus riders, young anti-war
activist Tara Cariso volunteered to come to the All Peoples Congress
Hall for the 4 a.m. shift.
This campaign has brought together young people from the anti-war
movement, bus riders who have never participated in community
activities, union organizers and community activists.
Following driver orientation, volunteers went into the community to
distribute boycott flyers in English and Spanish. On June 29, the group distributed flyers to churches denouncing the police attack.
The All Peoples Congress is calling on groups and individuals to
telephone, fax or email Mayor Martin O'Malley to condemn the police
action at the June 27th protest. Phone (410) 396-3835, fax (410) 576-
9435, email mayor (at) baltimorecity.gov.
The group is requesting a meeting with the mayor to demand that
constitutional rights for the civil rights, union and anti-war movements be guaranteed and police harassment and intervention be ended.
- END -
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