Something was different about Frederick United’s protest from the moment organizer Madeleine Tison-Orrell arrived.
She was told by two Frederick police officers that the power to the Baker Park bandshell was turned off, which has not happened at any of the protests in the last four months.
But organizers of the racial justice group were surprised once more on Saturday, when Lt. John Corbett announced through a megaphone that the Frederick Police Department will no longer be blocking traffic for protesters, and any protester unlawfully blocking traffic in the street could be criminally charged.
This is not a new decision, according to Acting Chief of Police Patrick Grossman. In a phone interview, he said that not blocking traffic had been the case for the last “month or two.” The decision was made in the interest of public safety, Grossman said, for the protesters, pedestrians and drivers on the roads.
“My biggest fear would be somebody getting struck by traffic,” Grossman said.
While Grossman said protesters have every right to assemble and voice their opinions, he also said that criminal charges could be brought upon protesters who block the streets.
But the enforcement isn’t a blanket rule. Protests are often “dynamic situations,” and depending on the circumstances, protesters could be warned, arrested or simply given a summons.
Grossman said Corbett is the main point of contact for all protests in Frederick, and is responsible for getting in contact with the protest groups before events to make sure they are all on the same page.
While Kristen Lundy, organizer with Frederick United, said that Corbett has worked with them to block traffic at some past events, she has not received any heads up from him in recent weeks about the police no longer blocking traffic for protesters.
Corbett said the power to the bandshell is actually never supposed to be turned on unless given permission from the Department of Parks and Recreation.
But most protests have used the power at the bandshell without a permit. In fact, permits for the bandshell are not currently being issued due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Corbett said.
Frederick United organizers spent the next hour or so working on getting a generator to the stage to continue with their speeches and performances, while planning what to do about their march.
They decided to march on the sidewalks and down the closed-off sections of Market Street. But they were also aware that in doing so, they were contradicting the title of the protest: “Whose Streets? Our Streets!”
“Right now we don’t have the numbers to show these are our streets,” Lundy said, referencing the small turnout of protesters. While about 50 people congregated around the bandshell before the performances, about 25 or so marched downtown.
When the march reached the Square Corner, a man barreled into the protesters and shoved two protesters using most of his body weight, before hurrying through the crowd and walking down the street.
Yury Lauterbach was one of the individuals who was shoved. She said the man looked her right in the eye as he approached her and then attempted to shove her to the ground, turning his shoulder in toward her.
“It was scary,” she said.
While several police officers were in the area at the time, they did not file a report or make any arrests, said Sgt. Andrew Alcorn, adding that he had not talked to the officers about what specifically happened as of 7 p.m. Saturday evening.
Police officers on bicycles followed most of the protest, often stationed on streets that the march had not reached yet.
“It was really irritating, because you won’t block off the streets, but you’ll block off and make your own way. But they also weren’t here to support us,” Lundy said. “You see an individual who aggressively walks through, pushes into somebody, and you don’t address that. You’re here to serve and protect who?”
Frederick United has plans to continue to protest later this month. Lundy hopes that more support from the community will be seen then.
“Show up and show out,” Lundy said. “You can’t expect change from the peace and quiet of your own home, you need to come outside and be active.”