Thousands of people called for justice in Baltimore on Saturday in new demonstrations a day after six police were charged over the death of an African-American man in their custody.
Many cheered the surprise convictions of the officers — three of them black. They face a range of charges, including second-degree murder and manslaughter.
The Maryland National Guard said on Twitter it had nearly 3,000 soldiers and airmen ready to help “keep the peace” in the city.
But in contrast to the violence and looting that flared after Freddie Gray’s funeral on Monday, there was a festive atmosphere in Baltimore, as demonstrators — white and black — gathered at City Hall, the focal point of rallies in recent days.
After the rally, protesters marched toward the neighborhood where Gray was arrested on April 12. He died a week later from his injuries.
“Whose streets? Our streets!” they chanted.
– ‘Stop police brutality’ –
“It’s been a frustration what’s going on. Now we want to stop police brutality, we want peace,” Autumn Hooper, a 25-year-old African American woman, told AFP.
The death of Gray, 25, at the hands of police has reignited simmering resentment in the United States over law enforcement tactics, particularly in their dealings with African Americans.
Gray was then seen hustled into a police van that made several stops en route to the Western District police station, from where an ambulance rushed him to a shock trauma unit.
He died seven days later with 80 percent of his spine severed at the neck, lawyers for his family have said.
On Friday, police made at least 15 arrests when some protesters defied a 10:00 pm curfew, underlining persisting anger at alleged police brutality and racism.
Demonstrations have erupted daily in Baltimore this week.
There have also been rallies in many other major American cities, including New York, Philadelphia and the capital Washington, in echoes of the protests that broke out across the United States last year over the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.
– ‘Shackled by his feet’ –
The medical examiner found that Gray’s death was a homicide.
That determination, along with the findings of an independent investigation “have led us to believe that we have probable cause to file criminal charges,” Maryland state prosecutor Marilyn Mosby said Friday.
Mosby said Gray “suffered a severe and critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet and unrestrained” inside a moving police van following his arrest.
Mosby — an African-American woman who is the daughter, granddaughter and niece of police officers — said Gray had been “illegally arrested” as “no crime had been committed.”
Baltimore’s police union condemned what it called “an egregious rush to judgement,” as it defended the officers and expressed confidence they would be cleared.
While some expressed relief that the police officers had been charged, others cautioned that it was only the first step in a process that once again casts a damning spotlight on race relations in the United States.
Lawyer and activist Malik Shabazz pressed Mosby: “don’t (back) off” as he addressed a calm, mostly young, crowd under sunny spring skies.
He led demonstrators in a chant of “No justice, no peace!”
Shabazz also urged Maryland Governor Bob Hogan to end the curfew in Baltimore, which business owners say is hurting them seriously, and to order out National Guard troops.
“I ask respectfully, Governor Hogan, back up your troops,” in the hopes the community can make strides toward normalcy.
Maryland’s branch of the ACLU, the largest US civil rights organization, also said “the curfew no longer serves its intended purpose,” in a statement.
There were hints Friday that the unrest could spread to other parts of the United States.
More than a dozen people were arrested in the Californian city of Oakland after a May Day protest that focused on alleged police brutality turned violent.
Some participants broke windows, sprayed graffiti, set small fires and refused to disperse, according to police.
Separately, three police officers were injured in Seattle during a demonstration and 16 people were arrested.