Darius G. Pridgen is heading to Baltimore on Sunday with plans to join a peaceful rally and make a statement on the importance of government listening when residents feel aggrieved.
Pridgen, a pastor and the Common Council president, said he also wants to learn from Baltimore’s experience on what governments should – and should not – do in the face of civil unrest.
“As I watched what is happening in Baltimore on TV,” Pridgen said, “I was thinking ‘You’ve been put in this position not just to make sure garbage gets picked up, and tree limbs get removed.’ ”
As an African-American in a leadership position, Pridgen said, he feels an obligation to go to Baltimore, where peaceful rallies were interrupted for a short time by rioting in response to the recent death of Freddie Gray, a black man in police custody. Six Baltimore police officers – black and white – Friday were charged in Gray’s death.
Pridgen said he understands the frustration people felt prior to the arrests, but he condemned the violence. “You can be upset about an issue, but it’s never right to break the law,” he said.
The Ellicott District Council member, who is also pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church, had been planning to travel to Baltimore on Sunday prior to the Friday arrests. Pridgen said he is participating in the Sunday rally to promote peace, nonviolence and justice.
Pridgen’s presence in Baltimore, he said, is a statement on the importance of allowing people who feel aggrieved to be heard. “When a group of people feel aggrieved, the least that should happen is they should be listened to and heard,” he said.
Pridgen referred to the December protests occurring on the streets of Buffalo after a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., voted not to indict the white officer who shot and killed a black teenager there. During the protests, there were also complaints by some African-American residents about their treatment by Buffalo police.
In response, Pridgen recalled, Mayor Brown W. Brown, area clergy, and other city officials held a town meeting to listen to residents’ concerns. Police also attended.
Pridgen will travel to Baltimore with his wife, Monique. Since posting his plans on Facebook, Pridgen said he has heard from a few others who say they also may attend Sunday’s rally, but the Council president said there is no organized plan for a Buffalo contingent to attend.
Before leaving for Baltimore, Pridgen is planning morning services at his church entitled: “Know Justice, Know Peace.” The service is aimed at bringing law enforcement together with regular citizens of all races at a church service focusing on justice and peace, he said.
Pridgen added that his travel to Baltimore is not an anti-police, or anti-law enforcement statement.
“We need law enforcement,” he said. The Council president noted that 30 years ago, at age 20, he attended a civil rights march in Forsyth County, Ga. Blacks and whites marched together, he said.
“This is a opportunity for people of all colors to show their concerns for people when they feel aggrieved,” Pridgen said of the Baltimore situation. “This is a time for hearing and listening.”