Baltimore protests continue as residents anxiously await Freddie Gray inquiry
Protests continued in Baltimore and elsewhere Wednesday as this riot-torn city reopened schools and lurched toward normality, while residents waited to learn how a young black man’s spine was severed while in police custody.
More than 1,000 peaceful marchers streamed from Pennsylvania Station to City Hall to protest the death of Freddie Gray, 25, who died April 19, a week after his arrest. Officials have confirmed that he died of a severed spine, and his family says his voice box was crushed and his neck snapped.
Also Wednesday, the Baltimore Orioles completed a surreal baseball game in an empty stadium that had been closed for security reasons, defeating the Chicago White Sox, 8-2. Games on Monday and Tuesday were postponed until May while the city seethed over Gray’s death.
Protesters also marched Wednesday in New York, where a peaceful but boisterous crowd chanted, “All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray,” and “Fight back.” One demonstrator carried a placard that read, “New York stands with Baltimore.”
By evening, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said, 18 people had been arrested, but he was not sure what the causes were.
Thousands of police and National Guard troops monitored the streets before the 10 p.m. curfew took effect. Once it did, the city was quiet.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra gave a free concert outside Baltimore’s Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, about 1 1/2 miles from the worst of the riot-scarred areas, to support the ravaged community.
In the lively waterfront neighborhood of Fells Point, many bar owners were boarding up windows even while staying open to serve those willing to come in the daytime. Owners were bracing for violence despite officials’ successful efforts Tuesday night to avoid the looting and arson that broke out on Monday, hours after Gray’s funeral.
“It’s not over yet,” said Ron Furman, owner of Max’s Taphouse, who stood on a corner with four other owners to discuss the situation. “We are waiting to see what happens Friday and Saturday.”
On Friday, Baltimore police will turn over the findings of their investigation of Gray’s death to the state attorney’s office, which will decide whether to charge the police officers involved with his arrest and transport to police headquarters. A large protest is planned for Saturday.
The jammed court system presented a new problem, as 101 of more than 230 people arrested during Monday’s unrest were released without charges after officials failed to formally charge them within 48 hours, according to the public defender’s office.
Overwhelmed police officials had struggled to corral the arresting officers and get them to file the proper charging documents, Baltimore Police Capt. Eric Kowalczyk said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference. The suspects could still be charged later, he said.
Earlier in the day, city Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe had protested what he said was the unlawful suspension by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of the defendants’ right to a hearing within 24 hours.
“To paraphrase Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, the injustice of suspending (even temporarily) the bedrock principles of justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” DeWolfe said in a press release.
The weeklong 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew instituted Tuesday night is crimping the city’s economy. Owners of bars and restaurants in Fells Point said it was “devastating” to their businesses and the 100-plus workers they employ.
Breaking curfew is a criminal offense unless workers have official letters from their employers, and thousands of people in the city’s service industries, many of them struggling to make ends meet, are temporarily out of work.
“Reds” Cassidy, an owner of Todd Conner’s bar, said 40% of his business comes between 10 p.m. and closing time at 2 a.m.
“What about our employees? How are they going to pay their bills?” asked Furman.
“They are asking parts of the city to be punished for what another part of the city is doing. That’s 100% unfair,” said Michael Beckner, owner of the Brick Oven Pizza restaurant.
The curfew is “horrible,” said a woman who dances under the name “Storm” at Chez Joey in Baltimore’s famous strip club district known as the Block. “Other people are allowed to go to work,” she said Tuesday. “But people don’t realize that a lot of us girls work night times.”
More than 3,000 officers and National Guard troops enforced the Tuesday night curfew, which saw 35 people arrested overnight, most for violating curfew.
“Tonight I think the biggest thing is the citizens are safe, the city is stable,” Batts said shortly before midnight Tuesday as he declared the curfew a success. “We hope to maintain it that way.”
More than 20 police officers have been injured since Monday, but nearly all have been treated and released from hospitals, Batts said.
It’s not clear what if any information police might release about the Gray investigation as they turn their findings over to prosecutors.
Gray’s spine was severed, but it remains a mystery how and when that occurred. Videos of his arrest show him dragging his feet, apparently limp, with his hands cuffed behind his back as he is placed in a police van. He can be heard screaming.
The van made at least two stops, and at one, Gray is seen on another video being taken out of the van. His legs are placed in irons and he is returned to the vehicle. During the ride, he repeatedly asked for medical care, including for an inhaler, but received nothing. When he arrived at police headquarters, he was not breathing and could not talk.
Phelps reported from Baltimore, Pearce from Los Angeles.
Times staff writer Tina Susman in New York and Baltimore Sun staff writer Justin Fenton in Baltimore contributed to this report.
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