Defiant but peaceful, demonstrators march in the name of Freddie Gray

Gina Best (center) of Columbia, mother of India Kager, who was killed by police in Virginia Beach, is consoled by Tawanda Jones (left), sister of Tyrone West, who was killed by Baltimore police, and Best's close friend Allison Harris before a march to mark the first anniversary of the death of Freddie Gray.

Vowing to "fight for" Freddie Gray a year after his death, activists and residents marched through the Penn North and Sandtown-Winchester communities on Saturday chanting his name in an angry but peaceful demonstration monitored by a subdued police presence.

Drivers honked their horns in support as about 130 marchers, many carrying signs, circled the neighborhood shouting "All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray," "No justice, no peace" and other chants.


Many neighborhood residents, sitting on their front steps on a cloudless day, raised their fists in support or took cellphone pictures.

Gray died on April 19, 2015, after suffering a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody.


His death set off widespread protests; on the day of his funeral, the city erupted in riots, arson and looting.

Six police officers who were involved in his arrest have been charged with violations ranging from misconduct in office to, in one case, second-degree murder. All have pleaded not guilty.

The tone of Saturday's march — and a series of speeches at the Penn North transit station beforehand — was defiant. The station, at the intersection of Pennsylvania and West North Avenues, became the center of last year's chaotic uprising.

The speakers invoked Gray, but also many other African-Americans they said had been abused by police in Baltimore and beyond. There were calls to hold police officers accountable, increase the minimum wage to $15 and stop the mass incarceration of black men nationally.

"Jobs not Jails," one sign said.

"I see all these political cars driving around because it's election season," said the Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon, president of the Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Council. "But we're here today because it's fighting season.

"We won't stop because we can't stop."

Cars parked nearby bore the names of candidates for various city offices.


Activist Leon Purnell urged the demonstrators to vote and then monitor the performance of their elected representatives.

"We did not demand enough from the people we put in office," Purnell said.

He noted state legislation this year that will allow 40,000 recently released Maryland felons to vote in time for this year's election. Lawmakers narrowly overturned Gov. Larry Hogan's veto of the bill, which extends voting rights to felons before they complete probation and parole.

"You've been coming out of prison and they still don't want to give you a chance to live," Purnell said.

As the speeches continued, a handful of uniformed police officers stood together across the street talking among themselves.

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When the demonstrators began marching, they headed to the area of Mount Street and North Avenue where police began pursuit of Gray.


On the busier streets, the marchers were trailed by several police vehicles.

When the demonstrators passed the Western District police station, some neighborhood residents shouted at the marchers to "turn around" and confront about a dozen officers standing quietly out front. But they continued to march on without incident.

The march was organized in part by Sharon Black and others with the People's Power Assembly.

"With the rise of the Trump movement, virulent racism, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, anti-woman and anti-worker sentiment and policies have only intensified," the organization said in a statement posted on Facebook.

"We must stay in the streets to continue our call for justice for Freddie Gray and all victims of police killings and abuse; we must unite against racism and bigotry; and we need to call out the capitalist system and demand jobs, housing, education, reparations, and an end to crushing poverty everywhere."