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Protests follow tense week between Baltimore police, residents

Protesters converged on Baltimore's Western District Police Headquarters after the death of Freddie Gray. Gray was injured while being taken into custody by Baltimore Police last week. (Baltimore Sun video)

Two days of angry protests outside the Western District Baltimore police station were the latest in a tense week between residents and law enforcement that included a police-involved shooting and a town-hall airing of grievances about the department that drew several hundred attendees.

Upon learning of the Sunday morning death of Freddie Gray, 25, who was gravely injured after an arrest last week, residents again took to the streets outside the station where he had been taken, demanding answers.

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Police have not said how Gray was injured or why they stopped him in the 1600 block of W. North Ave.

Members of the People's Power Assembly, a Baltimore activist group that has long protested police brutality in the city, mixed with a contingent from the Justice League NYC, who redirected their 250-mile march to Washington, D.C., "to stand in solidarity with the family of Freddie Gray."

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A series of police-involved deaths across the country have sparked demonstrations calling for reform.

At times during the Sunday protest, the two groups butted heads; the local Rev. Cortley "C.D." Witherspoon expressed frustration at what he saw as the out-of-towners' parachuting into Baltimore and trying to lead the demonstration without a background knowledge of the city's issues with police brutality.

Witherspoon called for an independent investigation into what happened to cause Gray's death. He plans to "request and demand" Gray's autopsy report. "The family needs to be able to have that," Witherspoon said. "They deserve that."

In a statement, the New York group's leaders said they had heard from family members of others who have died while in police custody in Baltimore.

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"As tensions are elevated in Baltimore, March2Justice participates in non-violent direct action to demand immediate transparency and accountability from Baltimore Police and elected officials," the Justice League NYC statement said.

The protesters shouted "No justice, no peace; we don't need you on our streets" and "Whose streets? Our streets!" as officers looked on, standing guard outside the station.

The Justice League clapped as they sang: "We ain't gonna stop 'til people are free/ I can hear my brother saying 'I can't breath'/ Now we're in the struggle saying, 'I can't leave'/ Calling out the violence of the racist police."

The groups surrounded one police car, prompting the officer inside to roll up his window and eventually get out of the car without incident.

Crystal Cooley, 30, who said she grew up with Gray, couldn't believe he was gone. "He didn't even begin to live his life yet," she said.

"Freddie's really dead, though?" she said incredulously to a friend as she walked away, shaking her head.

On Thursday night, more than 300 residents attended a meeting at Coppin State University to tell Justice Department officials about years of harassment, beatings and other mistreatment they said they'd endured from city police. The department is investigating complaints about Baltimore's Police Department at Commissioner Anthony W. Batts' request.

Residents walked five miles from North and Pennsylvania avenues for the "300 Man March," a demonstration against violence Friday night.

About a mile away from Saturday's protest, a man was shot by police after running from a traffic stop with a loaded gun. Police said the man, who was not identified, had run through a playground when he pulled out a gun. He was shot more than once and hospitalized in stable condition.

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