Freddie Gray protests continue in Baltimore, other cities
Once again, the curfew was heeded as hundreds of demonstrators protested in Baltimore and elsewhere Thursday evening after police formally turned their investigation of the death of Freddie Gray over to the state’s attorney’s office.
Baltimore police found that Gray suffered a serious head injury inside a prisoner transport wagon, with one wound indicating that he struck a protruding bolt in the back of the vehicle, sources familiar with the inquiry told the Baltimore Sun.
Gray died April 19, a week after his arrest, after suffering a mysterious spinal injury while in custody.
The state’s attorney’s office, which will decide whether to charge the officers involved with Gray’s arrest, said it was conducting its own investigation.
Maryland’s chief medical examiner, Dr. David R. Fowler, said that he had not given any documents to police or prosecutors but that autopsy results would be available “shortly,” the Sun reported.
For the third night in a row, a 10 p.m. curfew passed without major incident in Baltimore, as hundreds of demonstrators – including NBA star and Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony – dispersed after marching on City Hall earlier in the evening.
In Philadelphia, shoving briefly broke out between police and a crowd of several hundred demonstrators who otherwise marched peacefully through the city for several hours. A peaceful crowd of about 300 demonstrators also gathered to protest in Cincinnati, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Those solidarity demonstrations were the latest in a series held in cities across the nation this week.
The curfew -- imposed after looting, arson and stone-throwing broke out across Baltimore following Gray’s funeral Monday -- is expected to continue through the weekend, despite criticism from business owners and civil liberties advocates.
“The ability to walk freely in public without police interference, as long as no laws are being broken, is a fundamental part of living in a free country, and necessary to the exercise of all First Amendment freedoms, including spontaneous expressive activity,” Deborah Jeon, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said in a statement. “Restricting it exacerbates, rather than solves, Baltimore’s current problems.”
The ACLU sent a letter to Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake calling for the curfew to be rescinded.
Also Thursday, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, while applauding residents for “two days of peace and quiet,” added, “We still have a weekend to make it through.”
Nor would curfew-breakers be tolerated as tensions gradually eased in the city, Batts said: “This is not playtime.”
Baltimore police have given their findings on the death of Gray to the state prosecutor a day earlier than the self-imposed deadline, Batts announced earlier in the day.
Officials said nearly 100 officers had been injured in the days of confrontation, 13 of them seriously enough to be placed on medical leave and 15 on light duty. In addition, 106 people who had been arrested during the disturbances have been released because police have been unable to charge them during the 48-hour period after their arrests.
The results of the police investigation were sent to State’s Atty. Marilyn Mosby, who will decide the next step, including whether to bring charges against any of the six officers who were involved in arrest and transport of Gray on April 12. His death a week later touched off days of protests and Monday night’s violence and mass arrests.
“I understand the frustration. I understand the sense of urgency,” Batts told reporters Thursday. “That is why we have finished it a day ahead of time.
“The public deserves transparency and truth,” he said.
In a prepared statement, Mosby formally acknowledged receiving the findings and gave no time frame for when her office would complete its work.
“While we have and will continue to leverage the information received by the Department, we are not relying solely on their findings but rather the facts that we have gathered and verified. We ask for the public to remain patient and peaceful and to trust the process of the justice system,” the statement said.
Speaking at the National Action Network, Rawlings-Blake called for justice and unity.
“We will get justice for Freddie Gray; we will do it if we work together,” she said after the police findings were sent to the prosecutor’s office.
“I have wanted to serve the people of Baltimore since I was a child and did everything I could to put myself in a position to do so,” the mayor said of her political career working on municipal issues.
“I know we have had problems; I was trying to fix them,” she continued. “We can be better than what I’ve seen.”
Batts said his department had put more than 30 investigators on the case, the latest tinderbox in a year of national debate and protests over relations between African Americans and police.
“We have exhausted every lead at this point,” Batts told reporters. “But this does not mean the investigation is over.” As new information becomes available, police will follow the leads under the supervision of prosecutors.
Police did not discuss their findings but offered one new detail — that the police van carrying Gray made one additional stop for a total of four between his arrest and when he arrived unconscious at the police station.
Baltimore police have said they do not know whether Gray was injured during the arrest or during his ride in the van.
Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis, who headed the investigative task force, said new video had been found showing the extra stop, but he did not explain what happened there.
Baltimore police refused to take any questions, saying the action is now in the prosecutor’s hands. “I know the state’s attorney is committed to justice,” Batts said.
The police findings were sent to prosecutors amid a published report suggesting that Gray intentionally tried to injure himself as he was being transported in a police van.
According to the Washington Post, the prisoner sharing the police van told investigators that he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the vehicle and believed that he “was intentionally trying to injure himself.”
The prisoner later recanted his remarks that Gray was trying to hurt himself, sources familiar with the investigation told the Sun.
A man identifying himself as that prisoner has publicly come forward to say that the police report is inaccurate.
“All I did was go straight to the station, but I heard a little banging like he was banging his head,” the man, Donta Allen, told WJZ-TV, which reported Allen had been arrested on suspicion of stealing cigarettes.
“They are trying to make it seem like I told them that, I made it like Freddie Gray did that to himself,” Allen told the TV station. “Why ... would he do that to himself?”
Jason Downs, one of the attorneys for the Gray family, told the Post that the family had not been told of the prisoner’s comments to investigators.
“We disagree with any implication that Freddie Gray severed his own spinal cord,” Downs said. “We question the accuracy of the police reports we’ve seen thus far, including the police report that says Mr. Gray was arrested without force or incident.”
Police previously acknowledged that department policy was breached in that Gray was placed in the van but not buckled into a seat belt and that officers failed to get him medical care in a timely fashion. The Justice Department is also investigating whether there were any violations of federal civil rights law.
There were widespread protests in Baltimore, Boston, New York and Washington on Wednesday night over Gray’s death. The demonstrations were mainly peaceful, but there were 16 arrests in Baltimore.
Downtown Baltimore was unusually quiet Thursday, with some major tourist attractions closed.
Nick Empie and Michael Warren, in town for a food safety convention all week, said they were disappointed that the B&O Railroad Museum was closed. They had hoped to see a train that had carried Abraham Lincoln on a tour across the country. Their friends and family at home are surprised to hear that things are quiet and that they are having a good time, they said.
“The media makes it sound like the whole town is in a riot. They think it’s a war zone,” Warren said.
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