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Freddie Gray protests turn joyous at City Hall Sunday

After more than a week of angry protests over the death of Freddie Gray, marred at times by violence and rioting, hundreds rejoiced and sang outside City Hall on Sunday.

The weekend's final protest focused on seeking justice in police-brutality cases. Attendees exuded optimism and elation over criminal charges that were filed Friday against six officers in Gray's death.

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Many had come to the event from church services, and some had marched from Patterson Park, to hear a choir sing gospel songs and pastors take turns inspiring the crowd. A marching band and dancers later took center stage.

The Rev. Jamal H. Bryant of the Empowerment Temple, who has led many of the marches, got a round of applause when he pledged that the protests would not stop "until those six officers trade in their blue uniforms for orange uniforms!"

Attendees turned and raised their hands toward City Hall as they prayed for Baltimore's leaders, residents and the Police Department. They grasped hands and raised them over their heads, claiming victory over a system they said had oppressed them for too long.

Police union officials have decried what they call a rush to judgment and said none of the officers charged are responsible for Gray's death. The 25-year-old died a week after his arrest from injuries sustained in police custody.

The people in the crowd also bowed their heads and held a moment of silence for the thousands killed by an earthquake* in Nepal.

Clapping and singing broke out intermittently, with one woman playing a tambourine.

"I ain't gonna let nobody turn me around/ Turn me around, turn me around/ I ain't gonna let nobody turn me around/ I'm gonna keep on a-walkin', keep on a-talkin'/ Marchin' up to freedom land," they sang, many smiling and bobbing their heads to the beat.

Bryant thanked attendees from all religions and those who had joined the protests from out of town. The speakers took a moment to call to the front and pray for those under 21 years old, who one organizer called "not the leaders of tomorrow, the leaders of today."

Michael Mfume, 45, brought his two children, Naloni and Michael Jr., both 7, to Sunday's rally.

Mfume pointed to the role Baltimore's youth have played in the protests.

"If it wasn't for the fact that those 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds expressed themselves the way they did, we wouldn't have gotten as much attention," he said. "Now, No. 44, President Obama himself is talking about it."

Naloni, a second-grader, said she likes school, especially science and chemistry.

Looking proudly down at his daughter, Mfume said he wanted to "show them what civil disobedience looks like."

"It might not be something that directly affects them, but it affects the community as a whole," the Fells Point resident said. "We don't ever want Baltimore to go back to normal. Normal is 210 murders a year."

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An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the disaster in Nepal. The Sun regrets the error.

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