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Awaiting outcome in Officer Porter's trial, city leaders prepare for possible unrest and call for peace

With the trial of officer William Porter in the hands of the jury, the city take measures to prepare for the verdict. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

Police from around the Baltimore region assembled in the city with riot gear, and corrections officials cleared jail space in case of mass arrests, while political and community leaders called for calm and peaceful protests.

As the jury continued deliberations in the first trial of a police officer charged in Freddie Gray's arrest and death, Baltimore braced for the outcome.

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"We must be just whether we agree or disagree with a jury's verdict in a single criminal trial," said U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings at a news conference at his Baltimore office on Tuesday. "We will all be on trial in the days and weeks ahead."

The 12-person jury deadlocked on Tuesday in the case against Officer William G. Porter, and Judge Barry G. Williams ordered them to continue deliberations. They will resume Wednesday morning.

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Baltimore officials are seeking to avoid a repeat of the riots that erupted in April while preserving the community's right to protest and trying to address broader concerns about police brutality.

Porter — one of six officers charged in Gray's death — has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. He has pleaded not guilty.

Gray, 25, died in April after suffering severe neck injuries while in police custody. The day of his funeral descended into chaos, with rioting, looting and arson in many parts of the city.

The officers were charged less than a week later. Authorities have been preparing for the trials since then.

"We feel if we get this one right, we'll set a tone for the rest," Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said Tuesday at a news conference with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at Mondawmin Mall, the site of some of the worst looting in April.

Evidence of preparation was on display Tuesday, when state troopers and officers from neighboring jurisdictions, including Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, assembled in the city with riot gear and at least one armored vehicle — a stark contrast to the disorganized scramble for outside assistance that occurred in April.

But police officials played down the presence of the extra personnel.

After local photographer Devin Allen — famous for his Time magazine cover from the unrest — posted online pictures of the officers in riot gear in Druid Hill Park, Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith said the images were "not the visual that we want to portray."

He also said there was no reason for officers to be wearing the equipment. Critics have said the presence of police in riot gear helped to provoke antagonism during a standoff with students in April.

"Our goal is to try to keep our assisting agencies out of sight, out of mind, away from general public view as best we can," Smith said. "It isn't anything where we want to raise anxieties."

Davis said he knows people want to have better interactions with police officers on a day-to-day basis. The department is working to improve relations with the public, he said.

"It's not just better in terms of preparedness," he said. "Justice means so much more than just what happens in the courtroom."

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Cummings, who walked the streets after the riots to help restore calm, said the Porter case must be viewed in the larger context of many examples of police brutality, particularly against African-American men.

He also called on Baltimoreans to show respect for the jury's decision. The justice system may be imperfect, he said, but it's designed to be fair — and "it's the only one we have," he said.

After successive outside reviews have faulted city agencies and the Police Department for being unprepared for the April unrest, city and state officials said on Tuesday that they are monitoring the situation and are ready.

Corrections officials — who faced criticism in April for their handling of arrestees — have moved all detainees out of one area of Central Booking to another space within the facility in case of an influx of arrests, said Robert Thomas, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

The Maryland Transit Administration said that it would adjust services "as necessary" and that it expects heavy traffic around Baltimore City Circuit Court and City Hall, which is likely to lead to downtown bus delays.

Efforts to disseminate information to businesses, churches and other institutions also ramped up, with regular updates from the Joint Information Center the city established in August.

University of Maryland, Baltimore spokesman Alex Likowski called the improved communication "night and day" compared to April.

Nonetheless, some took precautions. Schools in Baltimore, Harford, Carroll and Howard counties dropped field trips to Baltimore this week. On Tuesday four Baltimore County groups that included nearly 400 students canceled trips to the Maryland Science Center.

"That's the bulk of our business this time of year," said Christopher Cropper, the science center's senior marketing director.

Baltimore County athletic teams also canceled events in the city through Friday, a spokesman said Tuesday, although that decision will be reassessed each day.

Among the events affected, Friday night's boys basketball game between No. 1 St. Frances and No. 2 New Town, scheduled to be played at St. Frances, has been postponed. Nick Myles, athletic director and boys basketball coach at St. Frances, said the game may be played at a later date if the Panthers can fit it into their schedule.

City Councilman Brandon Scott, an assistant basketball coach at Vanguard Collegiate Middle School, said Tuesday that the league in charge of that team also canceled games this week — a decision he called disappointing.

"It's a thin line between keeping people safe and keeping hysteria going," he said.

Still, Scott, co-founder of 300 Men March, said about 60 members "have been on standby since April" in case of further unrest. The group hosts regular peace marches and acted as a calming presence in April.

"I expect people in Baltimore to act as a majority of them did in April and not cause any trouble," Scott said, "but you have to be prepared because you never truly know how someone else is going to act."

A dozen City Council candidates and ministers in their 20s and 30s held a news conference in McElderry Park Tuesday to encourage young people to speak out peacefully. The group walked to East Monument Street in front of a Downtown Locker Room store that was among the businesses damaged in the April riots. They huddled and prayed for peace and a just verdict.

The verdict "might not be in our favor," said Mark Montgomery, a minister at Bethel AME church. "But if we protest with purpose, passion and power, we can see change."

Bishop Angel L. Nunez, who leads the Bilingual Christian Church on Erdman Avenue in East Baltimore, said "a few hundred" people intend to go to the intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenues to maintain peace after the verdict is announced.

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"We are embracing arm to arm, and our purpose is to show unity and embracing our city in love instead of violence," Nunez said. "My position is protest, but keep the peace."

Meanwhile, businesses were in the "wait-and-see mode," as Brian Lewbart, spokesman for T. Rowe Price, put it.

Baltimore restaurateurs, still suffering from a decline in visitors to the city after April's unrest, said they are worried about another dip in business depending on the verdict in Porter's case. But so far, they said they've seen little impact.

The Bagby Restaurant Group, with eateries that include Fleet Street Kitchen in Harbor East, has been busy with holiday parties and doesn't expect that to change, said spokesman Dave Seel.

"In this business it can get slow from a rainstorm, so you tend to plan for the best result and then when the worst result happens you sort of go with the flow," he said. "We try not to be scaremongers or anything like that. We try to roll with what happens."

At Mondawmin Mall, Rawlings-Blake and Davis toured businesses as families shopped and visited Santa. Davis gave police badges to children.

Mondawmin general manager Romaine Smallwood Smoot declined to say how the shopping center has changed its security since the spring, but merchants said new metal doors and other measures are in place.

"They've done everything they need to do," said Arto Vartanian, store manager at Shoe City.

Sales associate Syed Rizvi at Treasures, The Diamond Place said business owners are watching the trials closely. The jewelry store recently opened at Mondawmin.

"There is money in this mall," he said. "Even if you have chaos, you make money. … So that's what brings all the businessmen to this place, even though they are scared."

Baltimore Sun reporters Kevin Rector, Jonathan Pitts, Carrie Wells, Katherine Dunn, Glenn Graham and Sarah Meehan contributed to this article.

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