Chants of “no justice, no peace, no racist police” echoed through the streets of Baltimore on Saturday during a march that organizers billed as a “victory rally”, a day after a prosecutor charged six officers involved in the arrest of a black man who died in police custody.
State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby on Friday charged the six with felonies ranging from assault to murder in the death of Freddie Gray. He died from spinal injuries a week after his April 12 arrest. It provoked riots on the streets of Baltimore and quickly became a rallying cry against police brutality and social inequality in the city and elsewhere.
The planned march was to be a mass protest of Gray’s treatment by police, but after Mosby’s announcement, the tone had changed to more celebratory. Shortly after noon at Gilmor Homes, a group of demonstrators, both black and white, young and older, congregated.
“Are you ready to march for justice?” Kwame Rose, 20, of Baltimore, said. The crowded chanted, “Yes.” “Are you all ready to march for peace?” Rose asked. “Yeah,” the group answered.
Black Lawyers for Justice was expecting at least 10,000 people to show up downtown. Smaller groups of what looked to be several hundred gathered all around Baltimore and made their way through the streets to join the thousands at the main rally at City Hall. They carried homemade signs, calling for peace, as well as printed ones asking for justice. Others wore T-shirts that read, “Black Lives Matter.”
Near a CVS store that was looted and burned earlier in the week, groups of policemen stood on corners and a police helicopter flew overhead. Some officers twirled wooden batons idly. Someone had used chalk to draw a peace sign and write “Freddie Gray” on the brick face of the store. Hearts and dollar signs had been drawn on the store’s boarded-up windows.
As of 11 p.m. on Saturday, an hour after the curfew went into effect, a handful of people had been arrested, including one that was hit with a blast of pepper spray.
Mosby said that after reviewing the results of a police investigation turned over to her just one day before, she had concluded Gray’s arrest was illegal and unjustified. She said his neck was broken because he was handcuffed, shackled and placed head-first into a police van, where his pleas for medical attention were repeatedly ignored as he bounced around inside a small metal compartment in the vehicle.
The officers missed five opportunities to help the injured and falsely imprisoned detainee before he arrived at the police station no longer breathing, Mosby said. The police had no reason to stop or chase after Gray, she said. They falsely accused him of having an illegal switchblade when it was a legal pocketknife, and failed to strap him down with a seat belt, a direct violation of department policy, she said.
The six officers were scheduled to appear publicly in court for the first time at the end of the month. A lawyer hired by the police union insisted the officers did nothing wrong. Michael Davey said Mosby has committed “an egregious rush to judgment.” Others saw Gray’s arrest and death as a reflection of Baltimore’s broad social and economic problems and the announcement of charges prompted celebrations in the streets Friday.
Gray’s stepfather, Robert Shipley, said the family charges were “an important first step” and reiterated a plea to keep all public demonstrations peaceful. “If you are not coming in peace, please don’t come at all,” he said.
The family lawyer, Billy Murphy, said Baltimore now has an opportunity to set an example for cities across the nation grappling with police brutality. “The people of Philadelphia, New York, Cincinnati, and in numerous cities and towns are expressing their outrage that there are too many Freddie Grays,” Murphy said. “If Freddie Gray is not to die in vain, we must seize this opportunity to reform police departments throughout this country.”