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Second night of curfew arrives quietly in Baltimore

The city's biggest march in more than a week of demonstrations dispersed before the 10 p.m. curfew

On Wednesday night as the 10 p.m curfew passed in Baltimore, hundreds of police officers in riot gear stood with nothing to do at the scene of Monday's civil unrest.

Moments before, a brawl broke out between two men, who were arguing about obeying the order to stay off the streets. Riot police formed a line across North Ave. but left once community leaders, politicians and demonstrators convinced the two, and everyone else in the raucous crowd to go home.

As of 10:30 Wednesday night, police had taken no action against the few demonstrators who remained out. 

"We are very proud of what has happened here tonight. We are proud of our city," Rep. Elijah Cummings said after almost everyone had gone home. He promised that the investigation into Freddie Gray's death in police custody will remain a top priority.

State Sen. Catherine Pugh said that members of the community took the lead in clearing the streets, allowing police officers to hang back.

"I think we showed the nation that Baltimore can protect the peace," Pugh said.

Earlier in the evening, thousands of people marched in Baltimore demanding justice and police reform as 3,000 troops stood by ready to endforce the curfew.

The large peaceful protest that converged on city hall capped a day of calm, after the worst unrest in decades.

"Can't stop, won't stop, put killer cops in cell blocks," chanted protesters in the biggest march in more than a week of demonstrations since Gray died on April 19, after suffering a spinal-cord injury a week earlier under unclear circumstances while in police custody.

Solidarity demonstrations, mostly peaceful, occurred in a number of U.S. cities, including Boston, Houston, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Washington. Hundreds of people gathered in New York's Union Square chanting "black man, no justice."

At an evening news conference, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said there had been no incidents or arrests during the Wedneday march. He said that 16 adults and two youths had been arrested during the day.

Late on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Gray was "banging against the walls" of a police van and "was intentionally trying to injure himself," according to a prisoner being being transported with Gray.

The prisoner's account was contained in an application for a search warrant that was sealed by the court, the Post said. The prisoner, who is currently in jail, was separated from Gray by a metal partition and could not see him, the paper said.

Batts said last week that Gray wasn't wearing a seatbelt in the van, as required by the police department, and that another prisoner had said Gray was "was still moving around, that he was kicking and making noises" up until the vehicle reached the station. It is not clear if the prisoner quoted by Batts and by the Washington Post are the same person.

Baltimore police released many of those arrested during this week's unrest, according to the Baltimore Sun. The department may pursue charges against them at a later date, Capt. John Kowalczyk of the Baltimore City Police Department said on Wednesday.

"There was a chaotic situation. We had officers being attacked, officers being injured." said Kowalczyk told the Sun. He said the department would review video and other evidence to determine exactly what had happened.

The law requires people under arrest to be released if charges have not been filed within 48 hours, Kowalczyk said at a news conference. At least 111 people arrested on Monday night have still not been charged, he said. Kowalczyk said police arrested 35 people — 34 adults and 1 juvenile — since the beginning of curfew on Tuesday night. 

Attorneys representing people arrested during this week's violence and looting say they are frustrated that suspects are being assigned bail they believe is exorbitant. 

Linda Ramirez, an attorney working pro bono, argued Gerard Anderson was going to a grocery store to get food, not to loot. Ramirez said her client wasn't identified as a person who damaged the store's windows. She wanted his bail set at $25,000.

The judge wasn't swayed and set bail at $100,000, with the first $500 in cash, a pattern that was repeated according to the Baltimore Sun.

Also on Wednesday, rush-hour traffic resumed and public schools reopened in Baltimore after city streets were largely quiet overnight. After the curfew was lifted for the day in Baltimore, rush-hour traffic began flowing through downtown, including at an intersection where demonstrators and police had faced off Tuesday night. About 15 officers in riot gear protected a check-cashing business that had been trashed.

While most people respected the overnight curfew overnight that started at 10 p.m. Tuesday, a line of police behind riot shields hurled smoke canisters and fired pepper balls at a crowd of as many as 200 people who refused to obey the curfew. At least one officer was injured, according to the Baltimore Sun, and the crowd rapidly dispersed. It was down to just a few dozen people within minutes.

Police reported that two people were arrested for looting, one for disorderly conduct and seven for violating the curfew.

Just before midnight Tuesday, Batts declared the curfew a success.

“We do not have a lot of active movement throughout the city as a whole...Tonight I think the biggest thing is the citizens are safe, the city is stable,” he said. “We hope to maintain it that way.”

Schools reopened Wednesday morning after being closed Tuesday in the wake of Monday's violence. In a letter to the city school community on Tuesday, Baltimore Public Schools CEO Gregory Thornton thanked the students who avoided violence and law-breaking, and criticized students who took part, saying they would be held accountable.

Baltimore authorities and the Department of Justice are investigating the circumstances under which Gray died after suffering a severe spinal injury, widely believed to have happened in police custody. Justice Department officials said that they had met with Gray's family on Tuesday. The Baltimore Police Department suspended the six officers allegedly involved.

The police are expected to give the results of their investigation to the Justice Department on Friday. City authorities have had to counter the mistaken expectation that the results would be released to the public.

Diving into the debate over police use of force, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton on Wednesday urged police departments throughout the country to use body cameras. She also called for an end to excessive prison sentences that burden black communities.

"There is something wrong when a third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes," Clinton said during a speech at Columbia University in New York. 

On Monday evening, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake declared the curfew and blamed the violence on “thugs.” With exceptions for work and medical emergencies, the curfew is to remain in effect [at night] for a week. 

Maryland's Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency soon after, activating the state’s National Guard.

By early Tuesday morning, guard troops were deployed throughout uneasy areas of Baltimore, joining shield-bearing police officers who were blocking the streets and firefighters dousing smoldering blazes in the pre-dawn dark. 

Assessing the damage, police said earlier that at least 15 buildings and 144 cars had been set ablaze, and some 200 people arrested.

Sarita Pierre, a 34-year-old mother of seven who said she saw her corner dissolve into chaos Monday night, said on Tuesday that she believes the violence in her neighborhood stemmed from decades of abuse by police. 

She said she had had both positive and negative interactions with local police officers.

“I don't hold every single one of them accountable,” she said.

“The curfew, I can't say it's really helpful. It's a much bigger problem. It's a much larger issue,” she said. 

"Things have been bad for a very long time," she said. "I don't agree with the rioting, and I don't agree with the fires. But something has to get somebody's attention to say ‘You can't keep killing us.’"

Others suggested the unrest was about more than race or the police department — it was about high unemployment, high crime, poor housing, broken-down schools and lack of opportunity in Baltimore's inner-city neighborhoods.

The city of 622,000 is 63 percent black. The mayor, state's attorney, police chief and City Council president are black, as is 48 percent of the police force. Almost a quarter of Baltimore's residents live below the poverty line.

Now that many recreation centers are closed, a lack of activities for kids is one of the more pressing problems, Pierre said.

"There's so much more they could do than implementing a curfew," she said.

Additional reporting by Marisa Taylor and Wilson Dizard, with wire services.

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