Celebration, anger at 'victory rally' after charges filed in Freddie Gray case

"This is a part of history. The way things are handled in Baltimore will definitely set a precedent."

It was part dance party, and part angry cry for justice.

The day after six police officers were charged in the killing of Freddie Gray, at least 1,000 people converged on City Hall on Saturday for a largely celebratory "victory rally." They danced in unison. They sang along to "Express Yourself" pumped over a loudspeaker. They registered dozens to vote.

It was a marked contrast to last weekend, when scattered looting and vandalism broke out downtown after a day of demonstrations.

As officials' fears of another tense weekend eased Saturday, some suggested that it was time to lift the city's curfew.

Del. Antonio Hayes, a Baltimore Democrat, suggested the danger had passed. "They need to let [the curfew] up. ... People who have worked hard all week typically use the weekend to go relax, see a movie. It's been a stressful week for a lot of people."

Gray's death from injuries suffered in police custody in Baltimore has captured the attention of the world. The 25-year-old has become a symbol to many of a policing culture that treats residents of impoverished urban areas with callousness. Solidarity rallies have taken place in other cities, including Boston, New York, and Oakland, Calif.

But a few in the crowd of protestors at City Hall shouted that the officers would not have been charged if not for a riot Monday night that struck fear in the heart of the city establishment.

"Had it not been for the youth burning that CVS, we would not have had charges yesterday," said Kwame Rose, an organizer who led a march of about 150 people to City Hall.

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby disputed such suggestions after announcing charges Friday, saying she filed them as soon as the evidence in the case warranted.

Mosby brought swift charges — including second-degree murder and manslaughter — against the officers involved in Gray's arrest. Within hours of receiving the medical examiner's determination that Gray's death was a homicide, Mosby was seeking arrest warrants.

Gray died April 19, one week after he was injured in police custody. Mosby concluded that Gray had been illegally arrested and suffered a spinal cord injury while unrestrained in a police transport wagon. She said officers ignored his repeated appeals for medical help.

At the rally at City Hall, protesters held signs that said, "Running black is not a crime in Baltimore" and "Who's policing the Baltimore City police?"

Mark-Anthony Montgomery of the group Hearts with Promise said the protesters were fighting a "war on poverty" and a "war on injustice."

"America, you told us we were animals! You called us slaves!" Montgomery told the crowd. "Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter. ... Thank you, Freddie Gray, for your life!"

The group left City Hall before 6 p.m., many walking to Pennsylvania and North avenues, an area hit hard by the riots.

The marchers included people of all races, from Baltimore and out of state.

The Rev. Lindsay Andreolli-Comstock, a Baptist minister from Raleigh, N.C., said she was there to "stand in the back and support" the people of Baltimore.

"It's about listening, and the white community has not been listening very well," said Andreolli-Comstock, who is white.

Shannen McKay, a junior at Towson University, said she found Gray's death "eye-opening," growing up as a biracial woman from Columbia.

"This is a part of history," she said. "The way things are handled in Baltimore will definitely set a precedent."

Hours after Gray's funeral Monday, Baltimore descended into chaos and rioting.

Roaming groups of mostly young men clashed with police in the streets, seriously injuring officers. Rioters tore open businesses and looted their stores. Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard, and state police requested reinforcements from neighboring states. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake instituted a weeklong citywide curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Since then, the protests have largely been peaceful, with many community organizations stepping in to condemn lawlessness and prevent violence. Now, some, including the Maryland branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, are calling on Rawlings-Blake to end the curfew or extend its hours later than 10 p.m.

State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said the curfew is causing more harm than good.

"We need to lower tensions on all sides," Ferguson said. "The curfew is having a negative impact on communities and on businesses. The curfew has now transformed into another symbolic issue. The community has expressed its desire to move forward peacefully, and the public sector should respond in kind."

Maj. Gen. Linda Singh, who heads the Maryland National Guard, emphasized that her troops "are not here to stay."

"Let's be patient," she said Saturday evening, adding that she looked forward to the military standing down soon. "I can get back to my family, my folks can get back to their families, and then we can move on," she said.

Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said city officials are analyzing security in Baltimore each day to decide whether to keep the curfew going.

"The mayor does not want the curfew to go on a day longer than it has to," he said. "As soon as we can be sure it is safe to do so, we will remove the curfew."

The state said 3,000 soldiers and airmen with more than 150 vehicles are now posted in Baltimore, along with 578 additional police officers from Maryland, 283 from Pennsylvania and 149 from New Jersey. Representatives of Amnesty International were out on the streets of Baltimore Saturday to keep an eye out for human rights abuses.

Hogan said it wouldn't be wise to withdraw the National Guard until he was sure the city was safe.

"We've still got some very big protests and demonstrations going on here tonight and tomorrow," he said. "We want to make sure that people have the right to express their frustrations and their feelings in a safe manner. We want the protesters to be safe, we want the neighbors to be safe."

The governor declined to identify which specific threats led him to believe that the situation in the city is volatile.

"I'm not going to talk about what kinds of things are going on behind the scenes with respect to that. That would be inappropriate," he said. "But we're going to make sure that we have enough presence on the ground to take care of any eventuality."

With more demonstrations possible, the Police Department and other city agencies are tracking the costs to eventually submit them to the federal government in hopes of emergency response reimbursements.

"We're tracking every single expense," said Bob Maloney, director of the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management. "It's going to be a large dollar amount."

As the marchers made their way down Pennsylvania Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard on Saturday afternoon, it was clear that authorities had decided not to make a show of force. At many points in the march, not a single police officer or National Guard soldier was in sight.

As they marched, participants raised their voices in protest.

"Indict, convict, send those crooked cops to jail, the whole damn system is guilty as hell," they chanted.

Under the green-black-and-red flag of African nationalism, they sang: "We have to hold up the blood-stained banner, we have to hold it up until we die."

Hana Admassu, a social work student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, said she was marching for "equality and a better society."

"This is not just about Freddie. It's about all the Freddies who died before him," she said.

The intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenue — the scene of tense standoffs between police and protesters on recent nights — became a more festive place as the cast of the musical "Marley" at Center Stage put on a free concert of the Jamaican reggae legends songs Saturday afternoon.

Mitchell Brunings led the cast in singing "Them Belly Full" and other Marley hits.

Brunings said the only question was "how can we not" put on such a performance when Bob Marley was "the voice of the unheard."

"Bob Marley's music is in the right city at the right time for the right people," Brunings said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Kevin Rector, Erin Cox and Alison Knezevich contributed to this article.

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