Police used pepper spray to push back an angry crowd Monday afternoon from the Baltimore intersection that has been the epicenter of that city’s unrest after a confusing incident that initially was reported as a police shooting but may have been only an accidental discharge of a weapon.
A man who at first was thought to have been the victim of a shooting was loaded onto a stretcher and driven away from the scene at North Avenue and Pennsylvania. Police later said they had been attempting to arrest the man for carrying a concealed weapon when the man’s gun went off.
It was not clear if the man, or anyone else, was injured. He was seen lying motionless on the pavement, but no blood was evident. Bystanders referred to him as “Little Robert,” and he was later identified as Robert Tucker.
Within seconds of the shot, police carrying truncheons and shields converged on the scene. A police helicopter circled overhead, ordering a gathering crowd to get back. Bystanders who’d been blasted with pepper spray stumbled away while others used milk to wash their eyes.
Traci Franklin, 20, who was in a nearby social services office, said a woman came into the facility and screamed that police had shot her boyfriend. Another person who said he had witnessed the incident, Dwayne Banks, said the man had been shot in the back. “Here we go again,” he said.
Monday was the day Maryland National Guard troops began withdrawing from Baltimore, which had been under curfew until Sunday. But at the scene of Monday’s gunshot, tension was high, with police and the crowd appearing poised for confrontation.
Residents said that the official account didn’t matter in the end because, by now, the trust is so broken between residents and authorities that the word of bystanders – who may or may not have seen the incident – is what will endure. All they know, they said, is that yet another encounter between police and a resident ended with a young man being hauled off on a stretcher. To them, the details are irrelevant.
“At this point, I don’t believe anything the police say,” said Chanel Lee, 20. “I feel like the police shot him and are doing what they did with Freddie Gray: get in a huddle and figure out something to say for the cameras.”
Shy’keira Cannon, 20, said the riots were just “play” compared to what will happen if there are no convictions in the Gray case. Then she stopped herself.
“This isn’t even about Freddie Gray,” she said. “My 3-year-old niece is afraid of the police and she doesn’t even know what the word ‘police’ means. Why should a child think that way?”
When asked what happens next, the friends shrugged.
“You never know,” Lee said.
“To be continued.” Cannon added.