BALTIMORE — Protests over the arrest and death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray continued for a sixth day on Thursday, with about 200 people circling the grassy plaza in front of a cordoned-off City Hall and then marching in the streets at the evening rush hour.
“Shame on Baltimore police,” said the Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple and organizer of several demonstrations so far.
With Gray’s father and one of his sisters standing in front of the crowd, Bryant asked residents to hold up their hands “and show the family that we will not sit quietly until justice is done.”
Gray was arrested April 12 after a foot chase; police say he was carrying a knife. Video recorded by a civilian bystander shows officers dragging him into a police van. He died a week later.
Six police officers have been suspended while authorities investigate. The Justice Department announced Tuesday that it would open an investigation to see whether civil rights violations had been committed.
Gray’s death and the emotional protests that followed have thrust the city into the vortex of a national debate over police conduct in minority neighborhoods, spurred by the police-involved deaths in the past year of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Eric Garner on Staten Island and Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C.
On Thursday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said state troopers will help city authorities deal with Gray-related demonstrations, at the request of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D).
Hogan said Rawlings-Blake reached out Wednesday to ask for backup assistance. “The front line will be the Baltimore City police,” he said.
The mayor sent an e-mail to supporters Thursday canceling a fundraiser that had been scheduled for Sunday, out of respect for Gray’s family.
“If ever there was a time for me — and for all of us — to turn our full and undivided attention to Baltimore City, our communities, and our citizens, and away from campaigns and politics, that time is now,” the e-mail said. “Please join me in keeping the family of Mr. Gray in our thoughts and prayers.”
Hogan told reporters that he would not launch a state investigation into Gray’s death at this point, noting that federal and city authorities are reviewing the case.
“We don’t want to interfere with an ongoing investigation,” Hogan said. “I have complete confidence that they’re going to conduct their investigation in a complete and fair way, and it’s going to be transparent.”
Capt. Eric Kowalczyk, a Baltimore police spokesman, said members of Gray’s family met Thursday with Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts. The family had previously declined offers to meet with Batts and Rawlings-Blake.
In the afternoon, in front of City Hall, Bryant led a moment of silence for Baltimore homicide victims, the overwhelming majority of whom are black men.
He urged protesters to “not disrespect the memory of Freddie Gray by destroying our own community. Do not do what others think we are going to do.”
As the rush hour began, protesters marched several miles through downtown toward West Baltimore, where Gray was arrested. Police blocked some streets, snarling traffic.
Two people were arrested after a scuffle broke out about 6:15 p.m., police said. There were conflicting accounts of whether the argument began as a confrontation with police or a dispute between protesters.
Television video showed at least one bottle thrown at a police van and hitting the windshield. Police said each person arrested was charged with disorderly conduct and destruction of property.
Earlier in the day, at a rally on the corner where Gray was arrested, activist C.D. Witherspoon condemned a statement from the Baltimore police union’s president on Wednesday that likened protesters to a “lynch mob.”
“It was racially insensitive, and it was disrespectful,” Witherspoon said. “We are not a lynch mob.”
The union president, Gene Ryan, has since walked back the statement, saying he wanted to warn protesters against potentially becoming a lynch mob. Ryan and the union’s attorney say protesters should not call for the suspended officers to be jailed or charged before the investigation into what happened is complete.
Witherspoon and other speakers also lashed out at city leaders for erecting concert barricades and metal fences around the Western District police station, where the officers are assigned. There were similar complaints about metal gates and police officers stationed outside City Hall during the demonstration there.
Protesters have vowed to keep up pressure, disrupt the daily routines of the city and try to get other residents involved. A larger gathering is being planned for Saturday.
Hicks reported from Annapolis.