Thousands of people took to the streets of Baltimore on Saturday as anger over the death of a young black man turned to hopes for change following swift criminal charges against six police officers.
There was an upbeat mood at the march from the housing projects where 25-year-old Freddie Gray was arrested last month to a plaza in front of city hall where the city’s chief prosecutor announced charges on Friday ranging from murder to assault in his death.
Police made at least a dozen arrests of people violating a 10pm curfew that was kept in place for Saturday. But earlier in the day, relaxed marchers were snapping selfies with police wearing uniform rather than riot gear.
The arrests happened after small groups of protesters broke off from the march, which had ended at the West Baltimore intersection that was the scene of looting on Monday after the funeral for Gray.
Using social media hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackSpring, rallies in solidarity with Gray and against police mistreatment of minorities were held in more than 20 US cities Saturday including Dallas, New York and Los Angeles.
Many in the largely black city erupted with joy after the officers were charged – a sharp contrast to the deaths of unarmed black men over the past year in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York, where authorities found police broke no laws.
But while the charges announced by prosecutor Marilyn Mosby brought relief to the city of 620,000, residents said they needed to see justice served, not only in Baltimore but in other US communities where they feel minorities are disproportionately targeted by police.
“We’re here today because I have two young black male sons and I hope these kids are going to grow up in a different world, where police respect the community and the community respects the police,” said Jeff Wilson, 43. He was standing in front of Baltimore city hall with a sign reading “all lives matter.”
“This is really the start of the change. Everything won’t change immediately, but what happened yesterday will change the world,” Wilson added.
Gray died on April 19, a week after suffering a fatal spinal injury while in police custody. The six officers – three black and three white, five men and one woman – involved in his arrest were released on bond on Friday.
Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police, said he was disappointed with “the apparent rush to judgment” in charging the officers, who he insisted had done nothing wrong. The union launched an online fundraising plea on its website on Saturday to cover legal expenses for the six.
No dates have been set for trials but speakers urged people to ensure that they were registered to be called as jurors.
“We can’t get justice for Freddie without 12 jurors for Freddie. Get registered,” civil rights activist Kim Trueheart urged the crowd.
As volunteers moved through the plaza with voter registration forms, which are also used to track potential jurors, social worker Leroy Fowles, 44, said he agreed with the message.
“That is where it starts and ends. We have less of a voice if we don’t vote and we have less of a right to complain if we don’t vote,” Fowles said.
Baltimore has largely followed the 10pm curfew put in place after Monday, when protests turned violent and dozens of buildings and vehicles were burned, 20 police officers injured and more than 200 people arrested.
Announcing the charges against the officers, Mosby said the Maryland state medical examiner had ruled Gray’s death a homicide. She said he was unlawfully arrested and the officers repeatedly ignored his pleas for medical help while he was handcuffed, shackled and lying face down in the back of a police van.
Caesar R. Goodson Jr., a black officer who drove the van, was charged with second-degree murder, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. He and three others also face a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
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