Five days after local anti-violence activist Tyree Moorehead was killed by Baltimore police, community leaders said the shooting threatened to drive another wedge between black residents and city officials, undoing recent efforts to improve their relationship.
“How can we continue to build trust if we continue to get shot in the streets? said Joshua McLean of West Baltimore Faith-Based Ministries. “The police are supposed to protect us.”
Moorehead, a local rapper well known in Baltimore for spray-painting ‘No Shoot Zones’ at filming and homicide scenes, died Sunday after officer Zachary Rutherford fired 14 shots at close range . The officer was responding to reports of a woman being attacked; he arrived to find Moorehead standing over the woman wielding a large kitchen knife.
“We think it’s clear that this officer saved this woman’s life,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said after broadcast footage from the body camera filming earlier this week. Harrison oversaw the department’s ongoing reform efforts under a federal approval order intended to combat unconstitutional policing practices of the past.
Since the recent police shooting – the second this year – many in the community have wondered why the officer fired so many shots.
Michael Eugene Johnson, who held a press conference Friday at the Ark Social Club building on Pennsylvania Avenue, said he acknowledged Moorehead’s actions contributed to the result.
“The community is shocked,” he said.
He noted how the officer arrived on the scene with his weapon already drawn, then opened fire almost immediately.
For members of the black community who witnessed the shooting or watched the video, the images are traumatic — the latest depiction of police brutality against people of color, Johnson said.
Bodycam footage shows Rutherford shooting Moorehead from a few feet away as he rolled over the woman, allowing him to walk away. Rutherford kept firing, including towards Moorehead’s back. After completing a clip, the officer reloaded his gun and repeatedly ordered a bleeding Moorehead to drop the knife, but fired no more shots.
“I think what we have here is a disconnect between Baltimore Police Department training and policies,” said Earl El-Amin of the Baltimore Muslim Community Cultural Center.
He said the incident calls for a closer look at how the department trains officers to interact with people in mental health crisis.
Moorehead’s family and friends described his death against the backdrop of growing trauma and mental health issues. They said Moorehead had displayed a volatile demeanor in recent months, though he remained dedicated to his work against violence.
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Activists also questioned whether the outcome would have been different if Moorehead was white.
“For some reason, white men can come out alive, handcuffed,” said longtime Baltimore activist Bill Goodin. “Now I just don’t understand why we have case after case after case with black people killed.”
Reverend Westley West, an outspoken critic of the Baltimore Police Department who was acquitted of charges related to the protests on the Freddie Gray case in 2016, said Sunday’s shooting is the latest example of a broken system.
“I’m here because I’m outraged,” West said. “This officer changed his clip. …He was ready for more, like there was an army of black men chasing him with guns.
Moments after the press conference ended, West was held in handcuffs as he walked across West North Avenue. He was leaving the Arch Social Club building, a historical place in the heart of Baltimore’s once thriving black cultural district.
West was released within minutes, after officers discovered a warrant had been recalled, he said.
“It was a clear injustice, what just happened here,” he shouted, moments after being defeated. “People need to see the outrage.”