A day of mostly peaceful rallies to protest the death of Freddie Gray turned confrontational as dark fell over Baltimore on Saturday with demonstrators smashing the windows on police cars, blocking traffic near the Inner Harbor and shouting, “Killers!” at officers dressed in riot gear.
More than 100 officers — wearing helmets, gloves and vests and carrying batons — formed a wall along several blocks of Pratt Street, and began to make arrests. State police in full tactical gear were deployed to the city to respond to a crowd that was becoming unruly.
Protesters shouted: “Killers!” and “You can't get away with this!” and “Hands up don't shoot!” Some threw rocks, water bottles, even hot dog buns and condiments at police mounted on horses, smashed windows at local businesses and looted at least one convenience store.
The crowd — estimated at 1,200 — had remained mostly peaceful from about noon until about 6:30 p.m., near the time the Orioles game was set to begin.
Near the intersection of Howard and Pratt streets, police chanted at the crowds, “Move back. Move back.”
The protest was the largest of daily gatherings in the week since Gray died. The 25-year-old had sustained spinal cord injuries while in police custody following his arrest April 12 near Gilmor Homes in West Baltimore.
At the Gallery at Harborplace around 7 p.m., a window at the Michael Kors store was smashed and shoppers were evacuated. Those running from the mall held coats and scarves over their faces and reported hearing a loud bang as the window was smashed with a trash can.
Leila Rghioui, 20, of Randallstown had stopped by the mall after protesting earlier in the day with her friends.
“All I remember is the security guards started barricading doors and everyone started losing their minds coughing,” said Rghioui, who said she threw up from pepper spray in the air.
Outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards, demonstrators clashed with police.
A few protesters jumped on police cars and smashed their windows with trash cans and traffic cones as the group moved north on Howard. They grabbed police caps from the cars and posed atop them to cheering and howls of laughter. The group quickly dispersed, sprinting away as a line of police officers came running down the street.
The crowds began to assemble about noon at the site of Gray's arrest. Some participants came from as far as Ferguson, Mo. Most of the marchers, estimated by the Fire Department to number 1,200, were men, women and children from Baltimore.
From Gilmor, they marched to the Western District Police Station, where about 50 officers formed lines around the perimeter of the building.
Twelve-year-old Charles Sheppard leaned against the barricade, holding a sign with a quote attributed to James Baldwin: “Ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy of justice.”
His mother, Tina Commodore, yelled toward the line of officers: “He's a murder! He's a murder!”
“You know how a volcano erupts?” Charles asked. “That's how I feel inside about this.”
Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts, who a day earlier defied calls to step down, walked briefly into a crowd of a hundred or so outside the station. He told reporters he had been working to change the culture of the Police Department.
Some demonstrators shouted: “There's blood on your hands!” and “sellout!”
Before he walked back behind the police line, Batts paused to give 52-year-old Resa Burton a hug.
Burton, a lifelong West Baltimore resident, said she had a message for Batts: “We need justice.”
“They killed a man,” Burton said. “It could've been me! It could've been me! It could been my brother, my nephew! It could've been you!”
After the protesters crossed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, they stopped for a moment of silence outside Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where Gray fell into a coma before dying. As drivers honked, a bullhorn-carrying leader, Malik Shabazz, president of Black Lawyers for Justice, told the crowd to hold the intersection.
They then headed to Oriole Park, where Shabazz said, “Let's shake it up.”
Protesters began running toward the stadium, kicking parked cars. Shabazz tried to stop them.
One stomped across the top of a police cruiser, and another stood atop it.
But the brief flare-up was an anomaly during an otherwise peaceful march.
Gray's brother Juan Grant and cousin Carron Morgan were among the hundreds gathered there early in the day. The two helped calm the crowd.
Seventy-five officers stood in unison at the entrance of Camden Yards. Protesters stood steps away, calling them killers.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!” one man shouted. “You like breaking people's necks.!”
Another man shouted: “Some of you are good people. It's just the ones who do stupid stuff that we don't like.”
As the crowd moved through the intersection of Howard and Camden avenues, a group of men and teenagers grabbed soda, water and chips from a hot dog vendor. The group ran away with the food.
“Hey! that stuff isn't free!” the vendor yelled.
Tywan Paige, 12, marched with his uncle from the Western District.
“The police are gonna keep beating people up!” he shouted.
Police greeted the marchers on Fayette Street near police headquarters. Officers had helmets strapped to their legs in case violence erupted.
With hundreds of protesters in front of City Hall, organizers shouted into a microphone to energize the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, raise your hand if you think Freddie Gray was murdered,” Shabazz yelled. Hundreds and hundreds of hands went reached for the sky.
“We see black men dropping like flies,” he said. “We see them all across the United States of America.”
Shabazz called on leaders from President Barack Obama to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to address the violent relationship between black communities and law enforcement. He criticized Rawlings-Blake for not getting answers about the Gray case.
“How can you be the mayor and you can't even get a police report from the Police Department?” Shabazz said.
He said the Black Lawyers for Justice are planning another mass rally for next Saturday.
“We're going to keep having these rallies until we get answers,” Shabazz said. “Next time we'll have a bigger sound system.”
City Councilman Brandon Scott, vice chairman of the public safety committee, said he went to City Hall to support the citizens of Baltimore, and urged protesters to show up in as much force as possible to lobby to change laws in Annapolis, including the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights.
“We have to formulate this energy and turn it into positive change,” Scott said in an interview. “We have to galvanize and have the rest of the state agree with us that those laws should change.”
Jowan McKoy, 21, of East Baltimore held a sign that stood out among a sea of messages against the police: “We Kill Each Other Everyday.”
“We need to look at ourselves in the mirror,” McKoy said. It's not all about police brutality, it's about ourselves and the fact that we kill each other every day. There's never a protest or a march.”