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Sociologist says mood of protests can change from block to block

Dana R. Fisher, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, said prior to Saturday's demonstrations in Baltimore that the tone of the protests will have a lot to do with the people organizing the crowds. More than 1,000 people gathered in Baltimore to protest the death of Freddie Gray, 25, a who was arrest on April 12 and died a week later from injuries he received while in police custody.

Fisher, who has studied large protests across the country, said generally, in protests, the "vibe completely changes from block to block." She said the mood at a protest can change "in the amount of space that a voice can carry."

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"The vibe will change when that voice no longer carries," Fisher said. She said she's been to protests where anarchists are gathered in one zone wearing gear to protect them from tear gas and children marching with bongo drums in another.

"There needs to be an agreement among the police and the city of Baltimore and the protesters that nobody wants it to get ugly," Fisher said. "Unfortunately, it only takes few people in the crowd to throw rocks. The same can be said for one bad police officer."

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The number of religious leaders involved suggests the tone of the protests will remain peaceful. Still, she said, "It doesn't mean that it couldn't turn ugly."

Outside groups could bring the potential for disturbance, Fisher said, if their motivations aren't aligned with local leaders.

"When you have a bunch of external groups some may be more and less interested in civil disobedience," she said. "You need a small but aggressive group to change the feeling of the crowd."

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