After hours of peaceful protest, a mass demonstration against police brutality in Baltimore turned chaotic Saturday night as a smaller group of protesters damaged property and clashed with police, leading to 12 arrests.
More than one thousand demonstrators had gathered in the streets of downtown Baltimore earlier in the afternoon to protest the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died of unexplained injuries sustained while in police custody last week. After days of protests, activists had promised to “shut down” the city Saturday with their largest march yet.
Live video feeds of the demonstration showed a blocks-long column of marchers stopping traffic downtown as they made their way toward City Hall. A diverse crowd of protesters, carrying placards that read “Jail Killer Police,” and “Justice 4 Freddie Gray,” encountered few police officers as the march began.
“We live here, we’re marching for Fred,” a friend of Gray’s, who gave his name only as Juan, said over loudspeakers, according to NBC News. “Baltimore is strong, we’re not going to hurt our town … were going to fight for it.”
But tensions mounted after a group of younger, rowdier protesters confronted police near Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where some threw items at officers standing behind a barricade, according to the local NBC affiliate. Images and video circulated on Twitter showed one protester smashing the window of a police cruiser while others stood on car roofs. Another group began to loot a 7/11 store, police said in a press conference later Saturday.
By 7 p.m., police had begun arresting demonstrators. Baltimore police said the altercations, which appeared to be isolated incidents not involving the majority of demonstrators, resulted in approximately 12 arrests.
“We are doing our best to facilitate everyones 1st amendment rights to be heard,” Baltimore police tweeted Saturday night as the standoff developed. “Protesters are now breaking windows and throwing items at us.”
“We have isolated pockets of people from out of town causing disturbances downtown,” the department said in a separate tweet. “We are deploying resources to keep everyone safe.”
In a press conference later Saturday night, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake appealed for calm, saying she was “disappointed to see the violence in our city” after a week of peaceful protest.
Fredrica Gray, Freddie’s twin sister, spoke briefly for the first time, asking demonstrators to “please stop the violence.”
“Freddie would not want this,” she said.The exact cause of Gray’s death remains a mystery. He died last Sunday of a spinal cord injury, one week after he was arrested on weapons charges. Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said Friday that investigators had made progress in their investigation, but that many questions remain.
Batts said one new discovery is that Gray was not buckled down in the vehicle that was carrying him to the police station. There was “no excuse” for that, Batts said, noting the department’s new rules specify detainees have to be secured.
Rawlings-Blake said earlier Friday that she would not rest until the she learned what happened to Gray. “This is absolutely unacceptable, and I want answers,” the mayor said after meeting with protesters.
The protest Saturday began at the housing complex where Gray was arrested and converged on City Hall for a large rally in the early evening. The marchers reported paused for a moment of silence in front of Shock Trauma, the facility where Gray died last week in police custody.
A wake for Gray will be held Sunday. The funeral is set for 11 a.m. Monday at New Shiloh Baptist Church.