Sait Serkan Gurbuz / Reuters

Demonstrators hold 'victory rally' after charges in Freddie Gray death

Saturday's march was to be a mass protest, but the tone changed to a celebratory one after news of the charges

Chants of "no justice, no peace, no racist police" echoed through the streets of Baltimore on Saturday during a march that organizers billed as a "victory rally" a day after a prosecutor charged six officers involved in the arrest of a 25-year-old black man who died after suffering a spinal injury in police custody, which ignited protests and violence earlier in the week.

State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby on Friday charged the six with felonies ranging from assault to murder in the death of Freddie Gray, prompting many in the city to erupt with joy on Friday.

Saturday's march was to be a mass protest of Gray's treatment by police, but after Mosby's announcement, the tone had changed to more celebratory.

Shortly after noon at Gilmor Homes housing projects where Gray was arrested, a group of demonstrators, both black and white, young and older, congregated.

"Are you ready to march for justice?" Kwame Rose, 20, of Baltimore, said. The crowded chanted, "Yes."

"Are you all ready to march for peace?" Rose asked. "Yeah," the group answered.

Organizers were expecting at least 10,000 people to show up downtown. Smaller groups of what looked to be several hundred gathered all around Baltimore and made their way through the streets to join the thousands at the main rally at City Hall.

They carried homemade signs, calling for peace, as well as printed ones asking for justice. Others wore T-shirts that read, "Black Lives Matter." 

Near a CVS store that was looted and burned earlier in the week, groups of policemen stood on corners and a police helicopter flew overhead. Some officers twirled wooden batons idly. Someone had used chalk to draw a peace sign and write "Freddie Gray" on the brick face of the store. Hearts and dollar signs had been drawn on the store's boarded-up windows.

Baltimore has largely followed the 10 p.m. curfew put in place after unrest broke out after Gray's funeral. Dozens of buildings and vehicles were burned, 20 police officers were injured and more than 200 people were arrested.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, who represents the area where Gray died and has worked to calm Baltimore's streets the past four nights, said he was glad to see charges filed.

"It feels good; it's a relief," he said. "They have to let it play out. It will take time. But so often there are no charges and the process never begins."

Mosby brought charges Friday hours after the Maryland state medical examiner had ruled the death a homicide and a day after police handed her office the findings of its internal review of Gray's April 12 arrest. Announcing her swift decision, Mosby said at a news conference that Gray's death on April 12, was ruled a homicide by a medical examiner.

Mosby, a 35 year-old rookie prosecutor, said Gray asked for medical attention twice during a ride between the site of his arrest and a police booking center. She also said police had no reason to detain him in the first place.

"To the youth of this city, I will seek justice on your behalf," she said. "I heard your call for ‘No justice, no peace.'"

Caesar R. Goodson Jr., a black officer who drove the police van, was charged with second-degree murder, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. He and three others also face a charge of involuntary manslaughter and all must further answer to other lesser charges.

All six officers — three black and three white, five men and one woman — posted bond after their arrest Friday and were released from custody. Their union denounced the charges as an "apparent rush to judgment."

While the charges brought relief to the city of 620,000, residents said they needed to see justice served, not only in Baltimore but in other communities where minorities are disproportionately targeted by police. 

The Gray family’s attorney, Billy Murphy, said the family was “satisfied” with the Mosby’s decision, calling it "a step on the road to justice." The fear had been that "this [would] be like so many places, swept under the rug," he said. "There was no sweeping and no rug."

The charges served as counterpoint to other police killings of unarmed black men over the past year in cities including Ferguson, Missouri, and New York, where authorities cleared the officers involved.

Al Jazeera and wire services 

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