BALTIMORE – Outrage over the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray seems to have quieted in the streets of Baltimore after six police officers involved in his arrest were charged Friday with crimes ranging from murder to assault in connection with the fatal injuries he sustained in police custody.
It was a celebratory atmosphere on Saturday as community members, families and out-of-town supporters converged on the steps of Baltimore’s City Hall to rally in support of the indictments. A diverse crowd of as many as one thousand people gathered in the city center, where music and chanting filled the air. At one point, the crowd broke out dancing in unison, people young and old grooving to “The Wobble” as small children rolled around in the grass.
Despite the day’s peaceful atmosphere, Baltimore police said later Saturday that a 10 p.m. curfew would remain for a fifth night.
“The violence of last Monday was unprecedented,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said. He said the city wants to “get back to normalcy,” but the curfew would remain as a safety precaution to prevent rioting.Earlier in the day, the celebration outside City Hall was mixed with a sense of cautious optimism that justice would be served through the criminal justice system as community organizers sought to register residents to vote.
Thirty-five year-old Daniel Wyche said he first rushed to join the uprisings last Saturday, as discontent grew in Baltimore over the mystery surrounding the circumstances of Gray’s death. He didn’t go alone – Wyche insisted that his two young sons join the protests, too.
“Hopefully this is the civil rights movement of their generation,” he said.
Gray, who died April 19 after suffering a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody, was arrested April 12 for alleged possession of a switchblade, according to police documents. But Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Friday that the knife was not a switchblade and therefore permitted under Maryland law, making Gray’s arrest illegal.
“No crime was committed by Freddie Gray,” Mosby said to applause Friday, adding that the investigation was ongoing. In the aftermath of the press conference, jubilant crowds gathered in the city, some chanted “convict all six.”
Many supporters in the crowd Saturday said they were disappointed that Gray’s death didn’t become a major national flashpoint until weeks after his arrest, when Baltimore was on fire and roiled by unrest. “Property, apparently, has more value than a human life,” said Khalia Kweli.
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Kweli was among many who traveled to Baltimore to demonstrate in solidarity. Across the country, community organizers planned similar rallies under the banner #BlackSpring to bring the protests in Baltimore to supporters nationwide.
Katya Villano, 20, has lived in Baltimore for two years. For her, the charges brought against the six officers in Gray’s death are merely the first step in bringing wholesale change to her city’s police department.
“This isn’t an isolated incident, it’s a part of everyday life,” Villano said.
All six of the officers charged have been released from custody on bond. Office Caesar Goodson, who drove the police van that carried Gray to a local precinct, faces the most severe charge, second-degree depraved heart murder, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. Other charges include manslaughter and second-degree assault.
After days of peaceful protest, riots and looting broke out in the streets of Baltimore Monday night hours after Gray’s funeral. In response, the city was placed under a state of emergency and the National Guard was deployed into the streets. A citywide curfew has been in effect since Tuesday, making officials optimistic that rallies scheduled for this weekend would remain peaceful.
Protesters began gathering Saturday morning at the Gilmor Homes in northwest Baltimore, where Gray was arrested on April 12, and also at City Hall, where a rally is scheduled to end at 6 p.m – four hours before the citywide curfew.
Solidarity rallies are also taking place this weekend in Boston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh.