Two days after Baltimore riots, music and baseball lift city's spirits

Mayor worried city tensions could erupt again over misinformation #FreddieGray report

As masses of mostly peaceful demonstrators marched on City Hall, officials on Wednesday began their own offensive to prevent violence from flaring again Friday, when police are expected to turn their investigation into the death of Freddie Gray over to prosecutors.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and others tried to tamp down mistaken expectations that the public will be told Friday how Gray, 25, suffered a severed spinal cord and crushed voicebox while in police custody.

On a relatively subdued day, when the Orioles resumed play but in an empty Camden Yards and police and National Guard troops remained in force on city streets, city officials and lawyers for Gray's family worked to explain what to expect in the coming days.

They stressed that the police findings would not be released to the public, and State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby would not announce whether she would file criminal charges against the officers involved in the arrest.

"People misunderstood [Friday] to mean something else," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said outside New Shiloh Baptist Church, where she met privately with Gray family lawyers and community leaders to discuss how to prepare for what Friday might bring.

Attorney Hassan Murphy said Gray's relatives are "all terribly concerned" that those expecting a major break in the case could allow their disappointment to explode in anger.

"We don't want a repeat of Monday," Murphy said, when gangs of mostly young people rioted, looted businesses and set fires.

Rawlings-Blake might be "able to share additional facts and details to the public," spokesman Kevin Harris said, but she does not want to undermine the investigation.

As protesters marched in Baltimore, they drew support from demonstrations in Washington, Boston, Chicago and other cities. In New York, hundreds swarmed into Union Square "to show the people of Baltimore that we stand in solidarity with them," organizers there said in a statement.

Even as protests continued, spirits seemed to lift a bit as cleanup from Monday continued.

The mood was light-hearted around the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, where about 1,000 gathered for a free outdoor concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

After the turmoil and a new curfew intended to clear the streets by 10 p.m. forced the cancellation of other events, the noontime concert attracted those hungry for the sound of music rather than sirens.

But the concertgoers' chants of "Thank you, BSO," eventually gave way to those of several different groups of protesters who took to the streets on Wednesday.

"The message here today is that young people have power too," said Michaela Brown, 22, a Morgan State University junior from West Baltimore.

She joined hundreds of high school and college students from campuses across the city who converged Wednesday evening on Penn Station and marched to City Hall. Their aim, they said, was to show the world that Baltimore's youths are not bent on violence and looting, but on seeking more justice for Gray and themselves.

Marchers held signs saying youths rising up in Baltimore are "not thugs," and deserve a role in the broader fight against police brutality.

The streets were quiet Wednesday night. At the intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenues, the center of much of the unrest, police and reporters far outnumbered protesters and neighbors.

Meanwhile, national leaders, including new Attorney Loretta Lynch, addressed Gray's death and its aftermath.

"I'd ask that we remember that Baltimore is more than just a symbol. Baltimore is a city; it is a great city; it is a beautiful city; it is one of our cities," Lynch said at a meeting on cybersecurity in Washington.

"Like so many cities," she said, "Baltimore is struggling to balance great expectations and need with limited resources."

Lynch lauded the city for returning to calm after Monday's violence, and said she telephoned an officer hospitalized with injuries from the riots to wish him a speedy recovery.

In New York, Hillary Clinton took the opportunity of her first major speech since announcing her presidential candidacy to call for police to wear body cameras and for the country to "come to terms" with the unequal justice leveled against African-American men.

But in Baltimore, more immediate concerns took center stage. Rawlings-Blake and Gov. Larry Hogan, who have differed on how to respond to the unrest, stepped up public appearances, particularly in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, where Gray was arrested April 12.

Hogan, on his way to a meeting at the NAACP's satellite office on Gilmor Street, stopped to shoot basketballs at a playground with several young men from the community.

"It was pretty good — a new experience," Desmond Edmonds, 23, said. "He can shoot."

Hogan met with the civil rights organization's city and state presidents, who told him about the neighborhood's economic woes and long history of conflict with police.

"This neighborhood has been known for the police to just pick [you up] and throw you in the car, take you around the corner, beat you," Baltimore NAACP President Tessa Hill-Aston said.

Hogan, a Republican elected in November with only 22 percent of the vote in heavily Democratic Baltimore, promised that the meeting would be just "the beginning of a dialogue."

"We're going to address the underlying causes, and there's going to be a lot of time for that," Hogan said. "Right now we're going to deal with the crisis."

After the meeting, Hogan told the news media that there were "outsiders" coming into town to get on television and "make political hay."

"We can do without all of them, quite frankly," he said. "We want the community to heal. We want things to get back to normal."

Both Hogan and Rawlings-Blake said they believed the weeklong curfew, enacted Tuesday night, was working.

The mayor visited New Song Academy in Sandtown-Winchester, where she said she saw "the real pain that our kids are experiencing."

"I want our kids to have a better understand of what's happening … and hear from them what they think is the reason behind the violence and disruption on our streets," Rawlings-Blake said.

Bearing talking points titled "NOTE: Speak to YOUR record," she told reporters she lobbied lawmakers in Annapolis, unsuccessfully, to revise the state's Maryland Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, and brought the Justice Department to the city to review police misconduct.

Rawlings-Blake, who has been accused of appearing aloof during the unrest, defended her leadership style and response to the riots. "I'm passionate about my city. I'm passionate about helping communities that are in need, my track record speaks to it," Rawlings-Blake said. "It concerns me that the people I care about don't know what's on my heart."

But even as the mayor spoke to reporters, 25-year-old Ronte Jenkins said he was unimpressed with her leadership.

Jenkins, who said he has had his own run-ins with police, said there would be trouble Friday if officers involved in Gray's arrest are not charged. "It's going to be hell in my city," he said. "I don't want it to be."

Police Capt. Eric Kowalczyk emphasized that the department does not plan to issue a report this week when it turns its findings over to the state's attorney's office.

"By turning these documents, our findings over to the state's attorney's office as quickly as we can, we are being accountable to them so that we can be accountable to the public," he said.

Later Wednesday, Rawlings-Blake huddled with clergy at New Shiloh Baptist Church, scene of Gray's funeral service two days earlier, to discuss ways to ward against just what Jenkins was predicting.

The gathering was part of an effort to engage community leaders in the effort to keep the peace.

Gray's family is "distraught" by the riots, Murphy said. "They understand first-hand that people are disappointed and that this is really symptomatic of a much larger problem, but at the same time they wish that their son's name hadn't been marred by this violence."

Rawlings-Blake said, "The family wants to get it right." That will require the process playing out beyond Friday.

"We are using all of the resources we have to make sure people understand what's coming and why," she said. "We have not only the Police Department, a panel, the Department of Justice."

Murphy said the family "stands by our mayor" and wants an investigation that "gets us to the right result, and not necessarily one that is rushed."

"This family wants justice, and they want justice that comes at the right time, not too soon," Murphy said.

The Rev. Jamal Bryant said he spent most of the morning going to schools to address the belief that a determination is due out Friday.

"It is our responsibility to make sure that misinformation is corrected," Bryant said. "The community is going to stand in lock step on Friday so that we do not have a repeat of what it is we saw on Monday."

Also Wednesday, The Baltimore Sun reviewed documents that dispelled a notion circulating online that Gray had suffered spinal injuries in a car accident before his arrest. The rumors stemmed from a court settlement in Howard County.

The documents showed that the settlement was for a lead paint poisoning case that Gray and his sisters filed. The Sun has reported on the case.

Rawlings-Blake was asked about those rumors.

"We're going to look at what happened when he was in our custody," she said. "That is my obligation, and we're going to get to the bottom of it.

"We saw what happened when people speculate, well did he have a criminal history or did he have this. I'm not going to be a part of that."

If there is much anxiety about the coming days — on Saturday, another big protest is planned — Wednesday provided a bit of a respite. After the riots led the Orioles to postpone home games on Monday and Tuesday, the team returned to Camden Yards to beat the White Sox 8-2.

But if that represented normalcy, it was a new normalcy: For the first time in Major League history, the teams played before an empty stadium. Only players, coaches, scouts and the news media were allowed to attend.

The crack of bat on ball echoed in the vast emptiness. The familiar recording of "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" played during the seventh-inning stretch, but there was no one in the stands to dance and clap.

Later, as night fell, religion added another grace note to the day, at least for a group of about 50 Latinos who stood outside St. Patrick's Church in Upper Fells Point.

They were with CASA de Maryland, the immigrant rights group, and they had just marched through East Baltimore to show solidarity with Gray, his family and all of the city's African-American community.

Shawntia Smith, 25, who is black, walked up and started talking over their prayer, questioning what good that would do.

Rather than take offense, the group brought her into the circle, hugged her and said they heard and felt her pain. Smith broke into tears.

She spoke of the racism she feels.

"It hurts," she said. "I pray for the community."

CASA leader Ivania Castillo told her that she was not alone. She said a miracle had brought Smith to the group.

"She found God," Castillo said, "outside this church."

Sun reporters Pamela Wood, Michael Dresser, Kevin Rector, Colin Campbell, Mary Carole McCauley, Alison Knezevich, Mark Puente and Doug Donovan contributed to this article.

jeanmarbella@baltsun.com

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