"Gun violence" activist shot by Baltimore police after allegedly attacking woman with knife

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Tyree Moorehead was fairly well known in Baltimore for his protests against “gun violence,” which included spray painting “No Shoot Zones” at hundreds of crime scenes across the city. The 46-year old, who served 20 years in prison for a drug-related murder when he was 15, was himself shot and killed last weekend; not at the hands of any drug dealer or gang member, but by Baltimore police officers who responded to a call about a man armed with a knife who was attacking a woman.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Moorehead’s family and friends had become concerned about his “increasingly volatile” behavior over the past few months, and the activist had been the subject of several criminal complaints over the past couple of years.

In September 2021, Moorehead was arrested on assault charges in Baltimore County after witnesses reported he was yelling at schoolchildren and making vulgar comments. When neighbors confronted him at his house, he emerged with a knife in his waistband and punched one of them, according to charging documents.

A woman also filed two requests for restraining orders against Moorehead within the past two years, saying he was stalking and threatening her, including with a “large dagger.” Both requests were ultimately denied.

Friends and fellow activists told the Sun that Moorehead’s mental condition had become more alarming in recent weeks, but say he was reluctant to seek help.

In the hours before his death Sunday afternoon, he posted a lengthy live video on Instagram, telling his followers that “the real God” had given him instructions. He said there were forces working against him, including Satan, gang leaders and “the oppressor.”

“This is how they’ve killed every prophet before me, every rapper,” he said. “The first person that thinks something is going to happen to me, I want y’all to know, the whole world will go boom.”

His partner of almost two years, Angelia McDonald, also appeared in the video.

She said in an interview Monday that she left for work around 3 p.m. Sunday, even though Moorehead begged her to stay. He even told her: “That’ll be the last time you see me.”

“It’s like he knew the police were going to kill him,” she said.

She said his mental health seemed to be deteriorating rapidly.

Earlier in the weekend, Moorehead had chased a stranger while holding a knife. McDonald said she intervened, but when the two men met later at a gas station, Moorehead had no memory of their earlier encounter.

She noticed his behavior was changing Wednesday. He would do or say things and later forget them, she said. Although he sometimes regained his senses, he was increasingly paranoid.

“He was talking and saying he wouldn’t want to live anymore,” she said. “He wasn’t suicidal, but he didn’t want to live anymore.”

McDonald said she considered calling an ambulance to take him to the hospital for mental health treatment, but she believed he wouldn’t agree to go.

Sunday afternoon Baltimore police received a call about a man threatening a woman with a large knife. Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison says arriving officers found Moorehead actively assaulting the woman and ordered him to stop.

After police ordered him to drop the knife and get down, Moorehead rolled over on top of the woman, Harrison said. That’s when an officer opened fire. Harrison said Sunday that the officer fired multiple times, but he did not specify how many.

Officials said the woman was not stabbed or shot; medics treated her for minor injuries at the scene. It remains unclear whether she and Moorehead knew each other before the alleged attack.

Two officers were present when the shooting occurred, but only one appeared to have fired his weapon, Baltimore Police Department spokesperson Lindsey Eldridge said. Both were placed on administrative leave.

Demontea Madison, who witnessed the shooting from the median of Fulton Avenue, said the officer kept shooting, telling the man repeatedly to drop the knife, even though he already seemed to be dying.

“That’s what made me upset,” he said. “He didn’t have to shoot him like that.”

Others raised similar questions about the number of shots fired, especially since Moorehead was at close range, not running away.

His father, Carlton Moorehead, also witnessed the deadly encounter, which unfolded near his home. The man said he didn’t understand why police shot his son, who appeared to be complying with their commands.

“The police should not have shot him so many times,” he said.

We’ll see what the investigation into the shooting reveals, but based on the initial reporting it sounds like the officer was shooting to stop the threat to the woman.

What is clear, however, is that Maryland’s gun-centric approach to fighting violent crime ends up allowing guys like Moorehead to slip through the cracks. The issue plaguing Baltimore isn’t “gun violence”, it’s violence. Guns, knives, brass knuckles, or bare hands; it really doesn’t matter what object someone might use as a weapon if the individual is rarely if ever held to account. It sounds like there were plenty of opportunities over the past couple of years to bring Moorehead into the criminal justice and mental health systems, but he continued to escape scrutiny despite an escalating series of violent incidents. It sounds to me like Moorehead needed serious help, and maybe if he’d received it he’d still be alive today.

The focus on guns instead of violent individuals has also failed to curtail Baltimore’s crime woes. The city is on track for an eighth straight year of more than 300 homicides, and lawmakers in Annapolis are already talking about adding more restrictions on legal gun owners instead of overhauling the state’s failing court and mental health operations. With Democrats expected to regain complete control of state government once today’s votes are tallied, it’s going to be up to them to address the mental health and criminal justice crisis, but they appear to be more interested in criminalizing the exercise of a fundamental right instead.