What began as peaceful demonstrations over the death of Freddie Gray — a black man from Baltimore who died mysteriously while in police custody — turned somewhat ugly Saturday night, as protestors clashed with police in riot gear. The crowd, amassing near where Gray, 25, was arrested in west Baltimore on April 12, allegedly threw rocks, glass bottles, and eggs at officers, while scattered acts of vandalism occurred across the city, according to The New York Times. Gray died of a spinal cord injury on April 19, and the police (who have backpedaled on the possible reasons for his death, The Guardian has reported) are the focus of much frustration, which finally erupted Saturday.
The Saturday rally kicked off as a peaceful protest incorporating more than 1,000 people, but according to Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, “violent agitators” soon altered the atmosphere. Demonstrators allegedly smashed a storefront window, hurled rocks and bottles, and attacked police cruisers, The Times reported. Twelve people were arrested in the course of the evening, in the vicinity of Camden Yards. “They became very violent, they began to throw objects,” Batts told USA Today. “They picked up aluminum barricades and smashed windows at our bars and pubs.” One protestor claimed he had been pepper-sprayed by police, while other demonstrators reported an incidence of looting.
Just before 10 p.m., a news conference convened at City Hall. Organized by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the conference included Gray’s twin sister, Fredericka; Jamal Bryant, a prominent pastor; and City Councilman Brandon Scott and appealed for peace. “Freddie Gray would not want this,” Fredericka said. “Freddie’s father and mother does not [sic] want the violence.” By this stage, the skirmishes had largely died down.
“All night, all day, we’re gonna fight for Freddie Gray!” the multiracial crowd chanted at the beginning of the evening, as they marched through the streets. But trouble began early on in the evening, when, as the Times reported, up to 100 people allegedly split off from the main rally once it had reached City Hall. According to the newspaper, the smaller group advanced, breaking windows and throwing things at officers, until riot police faced them at Camden Yards. “You are assaulting American citizens,” a protester told police as they came closer. The officers, decked out in helmets and body-armor, repeatedly charged the protesters. Here's how it went down, on Twitter:
The U.S. Department of Justice is currently investigating whether police officers' actions violated Gray’s civil rights while he was in their custody. The police officers involved have denied using any force against their detainee, according to the initial police report and later comments from senior officials. Police Commissioner Batts attempted to engage with protesters Saturday, reportedly to let them know that “we are making deep systemic changes in the culture of this organization.” But he was met with little support.
As The Guardian reported, the response to Batts' appearance was verbal abuse and calls for his resignation from small groups of protesters. “I think the protesters are showing they care, that there’s a sense of urgency here, and that there’s pain our community,” Batts told the newspaper. “So we need to change the culture.”
As chaos unfolded, the police department turned to Twitter to urge calm, putting the turmoil down to “a few individuals causing disturbances.” About 1,200 officers were reportedly deployed during the protests Saturday. Up until Saturday — and even then, as Reverend Bryant pointed out at the press conference — the vast majority of the protests over Gray’s death had remained peaceful. Gray’s wake is set to be held Sunday afternoon, with his funeral taking place on Monday.
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