Protesters gather outside Baltimore Circuit Court, as the first court hearing was set to begin in the case of six police officers criminally charged in the death of Freddie Gray. (Lloyd Fox/AP)

Demonstrations near the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse in downtown Baltimore grew tense at moments on Wednesday morning, as the first circuit court hearing for six officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray got underway.

“All night, all day we will fight for Freddie Gray!” the crowd of about 40 people chanted. “We want justice, we want peace! Jail killer police!” Car horns honked in support.

As the demonstrators headed from the courthouse toward Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, trailed by two police vans and a helicopter overhead, one young man was struck by a passing car. Witnesses identified the man as Kwame Rose and said he was handcuffed by police.

The crowd became agitated, and an officer shouted and pulled out a taser. The young man yelled that he was not moving. “I’m hurt,” he said. “I got hit by a car.”

Some of the protesters then marched to police headquarters to demand information about Rose, who had been placed in an ambulance — as the crowd shouted, “Take off the cuffs!” — and driven away.

Protesters outside the 8th circuit courthouse for Baltimore City. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

“We want to know what happened to him,” said Cortly Witherspoon, president of the Baltimore Southern Leadership Conference. “We are going to make sure this man has a legal defense.”

Baltimore police reported on Twitter that there had been one arrest.

Gray was the 25-year-old African American man whose death from a severe spinal injury suffered in police custody inflamed Baltimore’s poor neighborhoods and drew the attention of a nation already embroiled in an emotional debate over how police officers treat young black men.

On the day of Gray’s funeral in April, demonstrations seeking justice for Gray’s family turned into violent riots and looting, triggering a week-long state of emergency in the city. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) brought in the National Guard.

The purpose of Wednesday’s hearing is to address whether any charges against the six arrested officers should be dismissed; the prosecutor should be recused; or the officers should be tried separately.

About 400 people signed up on Facebook to participate in Wednesday’s protests, which were organized by the Baltimore People’s Power Assembly. But initial turnout was far smaller, with demonstrators seemingly outnumbered by the large law enforcement and media presence.

“We don’t want any charges dropped against any officers, we don’t want a change of venue, and we don’t want the state’s attorney to be removed from this case,” protest organizer Sharon Black said Tuesday. “There’s a general feeling in the city that cops here have gotten away with murder.”

Among the demonstrators on Wednesday was Tawanda Jones, the sister of Tyrone West, a Baltimore resident who was killed by police in 2013.

“Indict, convict, send the killer cops to jail,” West chanted. “A poor black man’s reality is police brutality.”

Baltimore police have prepared for potential clashes, department spokesman T.J. Smith said. Officers were barred from taking leave Wednesday, and about 1,400 officers have gone through “enhanced and advanced” civil disturbance training. At least four sheriff’s deputies were stationed on each street corner around the courthouse.

“We’re going to treat a protest like a protest — which everyone has the right to do — and a riot like a riot — which people don’t have the right to do,” Smith said.

Lee Patterson, 60, who led the chanting outside the courthouse, said he was dismayed by the heavy police presence. And he questioned why the city is spending money for “ramped up” security, rather than investing more in jobs and opportunities for city youth.

“This is bigger than Freddie Gray. This is about poverty,” said Patterson, adding that he was worried the charges against the officers would be dismissed.

About two hours before the start of Wednesday’s hearing, all was quiet at the courthouse, and one sheriff’s deputy stopped briefly at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts.

“Good luck today,” a woman said to him as he waited for his order. “I prayed a lot about today. It’ll help.”

“Thank you,” the deputy said, smiling.

Lynh Bui contributed to this report.