BALTIMORE – Amid tears and cries for justice, demonstrators poured into the streets of Baltimore carrying signs emblazoned with the name of a man who died from a spinal injury he suffered while in police custody. Tuesday's demonstration marked the beginning of a week of protests and rallies planned across the city.
The Justice Department said earlier in the day that it has opened a civil rights investigation into the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suffered a fatal spinal-cord injury under mysterious circumstances after he was handcuffed and put in the back of a police van.
At the site of Gray's arrest, more than a thousand demonstrators gathered to remember Gray, who friends and relatives say was kind, funny and generous, and call for police reform.
"I want this to be a sign to the Baltimore Police Department that this is not an act of surrender," said Pastor Jamal Bryant of the Empowerment Temple, one of the rally's organizers, as he called on those in the crowd to raise their hands. "It's a sign of strength, of one unity and one commitment that we will not rest until we get justice for Freddie Gray.
"The world is watching," Bryant said. "The world is watching, and the world needs to see that black Baltimore is unified."
Gray was taken into custody April 12 after police "made eye contact" with him and another man in an area known for drug activity, police said, and both men started running. Gray was handcuffed and put in a transport van. At some point during his roughly 30-minute ride, the van was stopped and Gray's legs were shackled when an officer felt he was becoming "irate," police said.
Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said Gray asked for an inhaler and then several times asked for medical care. He was eventually rushed to a hospital.
Gray died Sunday — a week after his arrest — of what police described as "a significant spinal injury."
Exactly how he was injured and what happened in the van is still not known.
Demonstrators called for answers, accountability and a change to how they say people in inner-city Baltimore are treated by officers patrolling the neighborhood.
Pricilla Jackson carried a sign reading, "Convict Freddie's killers," that listed the names of the six officers suspended with pay while local and federal authorities investigate the death. Jackson, who is black, said she wants Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to know that she and others have been brutalized by police.
"They're hurting us when they throw us to the ground and kick us and punch us," said Jackson, 53.
As night began to fall, the crowd gathered outside of the Western District station house and held candles in front of banners that read, "Black Lives Matter, Stop Police Terror."
"How many of you have a Freddie Gray in your family?" shouted one demonstrator at a line of police officers outside of the station. "How many of you have lost a child, a brother?"
Another demonstration is planned for Wednesday evening at the site of Gray's arrest, and on Thursday protesters are expected to gather outside City Hall.