Editor’s Note: Hours after this story published, the Baltimore Police Department issued a warning about a “credible threat” against law enforcement from gangs who they say have formed a partnership to “take out” officers. A police spokesman declined to say whether the threat is related to Freddie Gray’s death.
Before protests over Freddie Gray’s death turned chaotic, an unlikely alliance was born in Baltimore on Saturday: Rivals from the Bloods and the Crips agreed to march side by side against police brutality.
The alleged gang members are pictured on social media crowding together with Nation of Islam activists, who told The Daily Beast they brokered the truce in honor of Gray, who died last week after suffering spinal injuries while in police custody.
In one photo, a gang activist in a red sweatshirt crouches to fit into a group photo with rivals decked out in blue bandanas.
“I can say with honesty those brothers demonstrated they can be united for a common good,” said Carlos Muhammad, a minister at Nation of Islam’s Mosque No. 6. “At the rally, they made the call that they must be united on that day. It should be commended.”
The detente was only a small part of the demonstration drawing 1,200 people to Baltimore’s City Hall, but it raised eyebrows among activists. Are things so bad that even Baltimore’s gang adversaries are joining forces to combat law enforcement?
“We can unite and stop killing one another,” Muhammad told The Daily Beast, “and the Bloods and the Crips can help rebuild their community.”
DeRay McKesson, an organizer known for his work in Ferguson, also confirmed the street-crime ceasefire. He live-tweeted Saturday’s mostly peaceful demonstration, which later descended into clashes with police and smashed storefronts and cop cars, and alerted followers of a possible respite in gangland.
“The fight against police brutality has united people in many ways that we have not seen regularly, and that’s really powerful,” McKesson told The Daily Beast. “The reality is, police have been terrorizing black people as far back as we can remember. It will take all of us coming together to change a corrupt system.”
Still, it’s not the first time gangsters called a truce to focus on another foe. In August, the MadameNoire web publication reported on two former Bloods and Crips rivals in St. Louis—now protesting against police in Ferguson, Missouri—who held a sign in red and blue letters: “NO MORE CRIPS. NO MORE BLOODS. ONE PEOPLE. NO GANG ZONE.”
“Young black men are dying from the police and they are dying from the gangs too,” one activist said. “But this is a bigger problem, so we took it upon ourselves to focus our energy on making a better solution for the community we live in.”
On Sunday, Baltimore police announced that 35 people were arrested and six police officers were injured in demonstrations.
The unrest prompted a mayoral press conference on Saturday evening, when Gray’s twin sister Fredericka made her first public statements. “My family wants to say, can you all please, please stop the violence?” she pleaded. “Freddie Gray would not want this.”
But before Fredericka spoke, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake thanked those who were discouraging violence—and even singled out Nation of Islam’s peacekeeping efforts.
“I want to also thank the Nation of Islam, who have been very present in our efforts to keep calm and peace in our city,” she said.
On Friday, authorities acknowledged that Gray, 25, should have received medical attention immediately following his April 12 arrest. Gray suffered deadly injuries during transport, though it’s unclear what happened. His spine was severed, he fell into a coma, and died a week later.
Funeral services will be held for Gray today. Muhammad told The Daily Beast he expects Bloods and Crips members to join Nation of Islam to support mourners.
“This is our part in helping to keep peace and to keep protesters in a situation where they’re not in confrontation with police,” Muhammad said.