Protests in solidarity with Baltimore, Maryland in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray erupted in major cities across the country on Wednesday night, leading to at times violent clashes with police in New York City. There were also peaceful demonstrations in Seattle, Washington D.C., Denver and Minneapolis.
In what started as a peaceful rally of as many as 1,000 supporters in New York’s Union Square soon dissolved into clashes with police after groups attempted to take the protests to the street. Police initially made dozens of arrests just minutes into the demonstration and managed to disperse the crowd, but only temporarily. The protest soon split into factions, with demonstrators marching for hours through some of Manhattan’s most iconic landmarks – Times Square, the shadow of the Empire State Building and even blocking the Holland Tunnel. More than 100 people were arrested, according to the New York Police Department.
“New York is Baltimore and Baltimore is New York,” was chanted by protesters in Times Square as police attempted to pin back increasingly tense crowds. Some protesters were pushed into barricades, while bewildered tourists found themselves in the middle of heated confrontations. Authorities were at times aggressive – even throwing punches – when addressing protest groups that were openly defying orders to stay off of major thoroughfares. Protesters attempted to thwart police efforts to contain the demonstration by trying to outrun the barricades being placed at their every turn.
“We are seeing rebellion. We are seeing revolution. We are seeing revolt,” said Ahmad Greene, with the group Black Lives Matter.Families with loved ones who were killed by police violence joined the protest. Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who was killed after being put in a police chokehold last summer, urged the crowd to sustain the momentum in raising issues with police violence. “We need to change this for the next generation – this has to stop now!” Garner said at the rally in Union Square. She was later joined by the aunt of Akai Gurley, an unarmed black man who was shot dead by police last year. “We are sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she said. “We want everyone to be able to live an equal life.”
Unlike past demonstrations held in recent months by the same mix of advocacy and protest groups, the rally was not permitted to to spill into major roadways. Ahead of the protest, the New York Police Department handed out advisories to demonstrators warning that “anyone interfering with vehicular or pedestrian traffic may be subject to arrest for disorderly conduct.” Nine arrests were made during protests in Denver, according to The Denver Post.
Meanwhile, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland attempted to urge protesters back on the streets of Baltimore to “go home.” Addressing a crowd not far from his own neighborhood via a bullhorn, the lawmaker said, “I’m not asking, I’m begging. We’ve got to keep the peace.” Skirmishes broke out on the ground despite Cummings’ efforts, as protesters initially refused to go home when a curfew that went into effect on Tuesday began its second night. Eventually crowds there did disperse amid relative calm.
Despite frequent press conferences throughout the day, police offered no new information Wednesday about the 25-year-old Gray’s police-custody death, leaving an outraged public – and his family – with more questions than answers 17 days after Gray’s arrest. Hopes of enlightenment were dashed by police Wednesday afternoon when Capt. Eric Kowalczyk told the press that the police department would release all of its findings not to the public, but to the state attorney’s office on Friday.
Gray, a black man, died on April 19 of what his family’s attorney said was a severed spine that allegedly occurred after he was arrested on a weapons charge on April 12. Authorities have not disclosed what caused Gray’s injuries. A cell phone camera captured him being pinned to the ground and loaded into a police van. Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said Friday that Gray wasn’t seat-belted while being transported in the van and that Gray should have received medical care immediately following his detainment.
However, The Washington Post reported late Wednesday that a prisoner who reportedly shared the police transport van with Gray upon Gray’s April 12 arrest told investigators he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the van and believed Gray “was intentionally trying to injure himself.” The account comes from a police document obtained by The Post on condition of the prisoner’s anonymity “because the person who provided it feared for the inmate’s safety.” The anonymous prisoner is currently in jail and could not see Gray in the van as the two were “separated by a metal partition.” Msnbc has not independently verified The Post’s report.
Jayne Miller, an investigative reporter for WBAL, refuted the report during an appearance on msnbc’s “All In” on Wednesday night. “According to our sources by the time that prisoner is loaded into that van Freddie Gray was unresponsive. Secondly, we have reported [there] is no evidence, medical evidence that Freddie Gray suffered any injury that indicate that he injured himself.”
A 6 p.m. presser featuring Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan shed no new light on the investigation. Instead, Hogan focused on law enforcement’s efforts to maintain calm across the city. “We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said. As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, police had made 16 arrests but reported “no major incidents.”
“It is not our desire to arrest anybody,” Maryland State Police Col. William Pallozzi said, asking residents to please abide by the city’s 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew.
A large protest began Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. when college students carrying signs and chanting marched to City Hall.
Early Wednesday evening, the Baltimore Public Defender’s office said that 101 of those arrested amid Monday night’s rioting were being released without charges. As of late Wednesday afternoon, 111 of the 209 people arrested Monday night remained jailed without charges, pushing the 48-hour constitutional limit on such detentions. “If we are not able to meet the 48-hour window … they will be released,” Kowalczyk told the press earlier in the day.
Protests remained mostly peaceful following a night of rioting that rocked the city Monday. A day that began with Gray’s funeral, Monday erupted into violence hours later, prompting Hogan to declare a state of emergency and activate the National Guard. Public schools were closed Tuesday and a citywide curfew – set to continue for at least the rest of the week – went into effect Tuesday night.
The Baltimore Orioles’ Monday and Tuesday games were rescheduled for Wednesday, when the team faced off against the Chicago White Sox in the first-ever Major League Baseball game that was closed to the public. A hometown victory, the Orioles won 8-2.
The U.S. Dept. of Justice – led by new Attorney General Loretta Lynch – is pursuing a parallel investigation into Gray’s death.
Additional reporting by Adam Howard