Hundreds of protesters poured onto the streets of downtown Baltimore on Thursday, halting rush-hour traffic as they marched on the fifth consecutive day of demonstrations since Freddie Gray died after being severely injured in police custody.
After rallying outside City Hall, protesters made their way through the Inner Harbor to Federal Hill and then to the Western District police station, where Gray was pulled unconscious from a prisoner transport van after his arrest on April 12. Gray, 25, died a week later.
Tensions remained high, with angry demonstrators yelling and swearing at mostly stoic police officers. Two protesters were arrested for disorderly conduct and destruction of property at Pennsylvania Avenue and Pitcher Street, causing a commotion in the street as the group made its way back to the police station.
But most of the protesters expressed their anger peacefully, blowing whistles and holding signs as they marched several miles from the City Hall event to the police station in Sandtown-Winchester. They high-fived people in their cars who honked their horns and others leaning out of buses.
A few confronted a taxi driver on Light Street who rolled down his window to voice his anger at the protests, but others pulled them away, encouraging them to keep moving and keep the demonstration nonviolent.
Before the march, the Rev. Jamal H. Bryant, of the Empowerment Temple, prayed with protesters and led chants of "No justice, no peace!" outside City Hall.
Protesters applauded the U.S. Senate for confirming Loretta Lynch as the first black woman as U.S. attorney general.
Bryant, one of several speakers who addressed the crowd, called for supporters of the Gray family to wear gray to church on Sunday in solidarity with them.
"We are not calling for revenge," he said. "We are calling for justice."
City leaders and police took additional steps to maintain order. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake allowed city employees downtown to leave early Thursday to ease traffic conditions. Police said in a statement that leave was canceled for all officers and other employees "to ensure adequate coverage of the city."
Police also called in reinforcements from the Maryland State Police to help monitor the protests, which are expected to continue Friday and into the weekend, with a large march and rally planned Saturday afternoon from the scene of Gray's arrest in Gilmor Homes to City Hall.
Many, including Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, criticized the city for calling in police reinforcements for nonviolent protests.
"You don't need it at all," Young said. "Our citizens, the majority of them, are not violent. They are frustrated and angry."
City police, the Department of Justice and the Baltimore state's attorney's office continue to investigate Gray's death, while the six city police officers involved in his arrest remain on paid leave.
Baltimore police said Commissioner Anthony W. Batts met Thursday with representatives of the protesters and Gray's family, expressing his sympathy and updating them on the investigation.
Juan Grant, 28, a childhood friend of Gray's, said he went on behalf of the family, who were too distraught to attend.
Kiona Mack, 25, who recorded one of the videos of Gray’s arrest, and the Rev. Westley West of Faith Empowered Ministries, who has led daily protests and Thursday’s march around the city, accompanied Grant to the meeting with Batts.
"He convinced me that he is on top of the investigation," Grant said. "This is a full-on criminal investigation."
West, 27, said he appreciated Batts inviting them to meet with them and said it was “enlightening to know he wants to work with us.”
“I don’t want to give him too much credit,” he said. “We want to see action versus the words. I had a good experience, a good vibe. We want to make sure we have the support.”
Earlier Thursday, organizers from the Peoples Power Assembly held a news conference and rally at North Mount and Presbury streets, where they announced that the group is planning to conduct an independent investigation into Gray's death.
"We do not have faith in the mayor's office or the Baltimore City police to conduct a fair and impartial investigation," said the Rev. Cortley "C.D." Witherspoon, an organizer with the Peoples Power Assembly, in a statement.
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin George contributed to this article.
Medical response timeline in Gray case
The Baltimore Fire Department first received a call for an "unconscious male" at the Western District police station at 9:26 a.m. on April 12, according to a new timeline provided by the department on its response in the Freddie Gray case.
A medic unit arrived at the Western District at 9:33 a.m., within national response standards, and paramedics were on the scene providing "patient care" until their departure for Maryland Shock Trauma Center at 9:54 a.m., said Capt. Roman Clark, a Fire Department spokesman.
Clark said he could not disclose the kind of care Gray received during the medics' 21 minutes at the police station because of federal patient confidentiality laws.
The medic unit arrived at Shock Trauma at 10 a.m., he said.
Gray sustained a spinal injury to his neck sometime after being taken into custody by Baltimore police, and died a week after being admitted to Shock Trauma.
— Kevin Rector