The Other Side of MLK Boulevard

It was May 2, 2015—two weeks after Freddie Gray had died of the spinal injury he received while in police custody, six days since swaths of Baltimore had erupted with rage.

John Comer was driving by McCulloh Homes, the public housing complex where he had first started organizing for racial justice in Baltimore seven years ago with the local nonprofit Maryland Communities United.

There, he saw a row of armored Humvees with National Guardsmen peeking out from the roof—a jarring site on...

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