BALTIMORE — Two days after violence and looting shook this city, hundreds of peaceful protesters poured into the streets to turn the focus back to where it once had been: Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man who died after being seriously injured while in police custody.
The demonstration here also spawned solidarity protests in other cities, including the District, Boston and New York, where protesters shut down the Holland Tunnel and West Side Highway.
Outside Baltimore City Hall, Eric Ellerbee implored the protesters to continue their demonstrations.
“They think we’re going to go away, but we’re going to keep on going until we’re finished,” said Ellerbee, 30, a Baltimore native. “Whether you wear a badge or not, if you commit a crime, you need to go to jail.”
In the District, hundreds of people shut down the busy Chinatown intersection of Seventh and H streets NW.
“All night, all day, we’re going to fight for Freddie Gray!” they chanted.
“I’m out here tonight because change has to happen,” said Sherita Sweeney, 30, a D.C. native who lives in Maryland. “Sitting behind your laptop, tablet or cellphone complaining — you’re part of the problem, not the solution.”
From Chinatown, waving signs that said “Stop the War on Black America” and “Business as Usual’ Kills Black Americans,” the protesters marched to the White House, escorted by D.C. police.
“This isn’t a riot. It’s an uprising,” said Eugene Puryear, an organizer with a group that uses the hashtag #DCFerguson.
In Baltimore, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said that six adults and two juveniles had been arrested in Baltimore on Wednesday, but he did not specify the charges. Police had said they would continue to review footage of Monday’s rioting and looting to identify those involved.
He said that about 80 people arrested Monday were released 48 hours later because police had not been able to bring charges against them.
Saucha Robinson, a Coppin State University student, stood outside the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center waiting for her boyfriend. She was released from the facility about 7 p.m. Wednesday after being detained for two days without being formally charged, and she described herself as one of the many “innocents” arrested.
Robinson, 18, said she was arrested about 9 p.m. Monday as she was on her way to school. The education student said she was near Mondawmin Mall when she saw the police making arrests, so she ran from them, she said.
“My initial instinct is to run from whatever is going on,” Robinson said.
Batts said that those who had been released might be arrested again once the review of videos is complete. “We’re not giving up on them. We’re just going to follow up,” Batts said.
He began an evening news conference by holding up a piece of rock. “This is one of the small ones” Batts said was thrown at his officers. “I think they are extremely courageous, and I think they’ve been standing tall.”
Shaken by riot and riven by strife, Baltimore struggled to regain its feet Wednesday as schools again opened their doors, people returned to work and drivers passed without fear through streets that had been treacherous during Monday’s unrest.
The aura of things back to normal was undone by things out of place: The Baltimore Orioles played a home game absent any fans; and the Baltimore Symphony played a free outdoor #BSOPeace Concert blocks from a neighborhood that had gone up in smoke 40 hours earlier.
Meanwhile, thousands of police officers and National Guard members continued to patrol the streets, particularly in those areas “where people are known to gather,” as a spokesman said.
Earlier in the day, many people gathered outdoors in West Baltimore’s Sandtown neighborhood, where Monday’s violence took place. Unemployment in the blighted community is a staggering 50 percent, and the spectacle of politicians and reporters milling about brought out residents unaccustomed to their neighborhood receiving attention from anyone but the police.
“Trying to get some normalcy back,” Brian Smallwood, 55, said as he tossed a load of trash into the back of a green garbage truck near where the violence took place.
Smallwood remembers the violence in Baltimore after the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I was 8,” he said. “They burned the same place — Pennsylvania Avenue.”
Smallwood seethed at Monday’s destruction and the national embarrassment. “It really hurt me to see this,” he said, “to see my city on fire.”
The downtown area that fans out from the Inner Harbor, insulated by distance from what happened Monday, appeared back to normal by Wednesday.
“What happened [Tuesday] night was totally different from what happened Monday night,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said, calling the 10 p.m. citywide curfew a success. “Difference 24 hours makes. . . . Night and day.”
Hogan said the National Guard is likely to remain in the city until at least Monday. A curfew also will continue until early next week.
“The city is now safe,” he said.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said she hoped that the tension that arose from Gray’s April 19 death — a week after he suffered a severe spinal injury while in custody — would subside.
“I am heartened that the unrest seemed to ease [Tuesday] night and that members of the community are trying to come together to clean up their city,” Lynch said. “The Civil Rights Division and the FBI are already conducting a full and independent investigation into the tragic death of Mr. Gray.”
There was some concern among officials that the relative calm would be short-lived after it was announced that the police report on Gray’s death slated to be turned over to the state’s attorney on Friday would not be made public.
“There has been a lot of conversation about a report,” said Capt. Eric Kowalczyk of the Baltimore police. “There is not a report that is going to be issued. What we are going to do is turn over our findings, all of our investigative efforts, to the state’s attorney’s office.”
In Sandtown, the intersection of North and Pennsylvania avenues was at the center of Monday’s violence. With a fire-ravaged CVS on one corner and a wrecked check-cashing business on another, it remains weeks from having a truly normal day. But on Wednesday, it showed glimpses.
Cars streamed through the intersection all day, and — in perhaps the most classic sign of returning normalcy — drivers grew frustrated by the traffic. The nearby bus stop, which so many in this community rely on, was back in business.
At the CVS, workers drilled in slabs of plywood to cover up blackened openings, and at the check-cashing business, more workers installed windows.
And on the south side of North Avenue, regulars returned to their usual seats on the steps of rowhouses.
Most of those gathered at the intersection vigorously advocated peace Wednesday. Not Quintin Stewart, 24. Stewart said the rioting was a reaction to real frustrations.
“It was wrong, but it was right,” he said, asked about the burning of the CVS. “They can rebuild that, but they can’t bring that mother’s son back.”
Baltimore native Robert Cheeks, who lives about two miles away, took his three sons — Elijah, 7, Josiah, 4, and Noah, 2 — to the intersection.
“I want to show them what it means to protest peacefully,” said Cheeks, a warehouse worker.
J.R. Mosley, 32, a manager at the Baltimore Service Center Check Cashing business at Pennsylvania and North, said, “It’s usually a lot busier than this.”
As Mosley talked with a reporter, two customers came into the store. Ebony Goins, 26, of Baltimore immediately brought up the riot. “I was praying for y’all yesterday,” she told Mosley. “You know what? It’ll all come out in due time.”
“Unfortunately,” Mosley responded, “I don’t think it’s over.”
Mosley said that while he thought there was “some normalcy coming back,” he still worried about later.
“Time will tell,” he said. “We’ll see when the sun goes down.”
Mosley said he was also worried about Friday, when Baltimore’s prosecutor is expected to receive a report about Gray’s death. Gray was arrested April 12.
“If it’s determined that Freddie Gray was wrongfully killed, I don’t know if you want to call it manslaughter or homicide by the police, then it’s gonna be a lot worse than what we’ve already seen,” he said.
Kenny Gilmore, 52, a counselor, stood at the intersection with a camera around his neck, half advocating for social justice, half documenting the devastation of his city.
“We been living in police brutality for some time now,” Gilmore said. “We ain’t going for that no more.”
The rally of high school students that evolved into Monday’s rioting began a few blocks away at Mondawmin Mall, where Tahira Said, 37, buys groceries.
On Wednesday, it took her less than 10 minutes to get in and out. Normally, the store has dozens of shoppers milling about, jamming the aisles. But on Wednesday, there were only a handful.
“This is surreal,” Said said. “It really is like being in a war-torn country.”
The Shoppers market was the only store of about a half-dozen businesses that had opened.
Outside the mall, dozens of armed and uniformed military and Baltimore-area police officers were stationed around the perimeter.
Wanda Griffin, 35, walked several blocks to the store, the only one where she can get fresh produce within 20 minutes of where she lives. “Things are returning to normal, I think,” she said. “It’s taken a minute. But we’re getting there.”
Esther Jung, who sells bangles, purses and colorful scarves from her mall cart inside the Light Street Pavilion at the Inner Harbor, where hundreds of tourists stop, was back in business Wednesday.
The stark image of National Guard members standing at attention with rifles at their sides melted into Tuesday’s memory. The soldiers seemed to blend in Wednesday, sitting among tourists, taking pictures with children and patronizing the Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant.
“I don’t blame the government” for its reaction to the violence, Jung said, recalling how a number of businesses were damaged Monday. “It’s scary.”
Although she said she thinks that the worst is over, rumors about downtown demonstrations on Friday could keep her from opening up her little cart of accessories.
“We’ll see what happens.”
Arelis R. Hernández, Perry Stein, Fredrick Kunkle, Matt Zapotosky, Lynh Bui, Peter Hermann, Joe Heim and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.