Marchers demand justice, police reform in Baltimore

By Scott Malone, Ian Simpson and Warren Strobel

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - Thousands of demonstrators marched in Baltimore on Wednesday demanding justice and police reform as 3,000 troops stood by to enforce a curfew imposed after Monday's civil unrest over the death of a 25-year-old black man.

The large peaceful protest that converged on city hall capped a day of calm in Baltimore, which saw its worst rioting in decades two days earlier.

Marchers said they seek answers about the fate of Freddie Gray, who died after suffering spinal injuries while in police custody, while also highlighting the need to change policing practices in the largely black city.

Baltimore is the latest flashpoint in a national movement to end racial profiling stoked by the deaths of black men over the past year at the hands of police in New York; Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland, Ohio; and elsewhere.

"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, a week after his arrest and injury.

Republican Governor Larry Hogan said protesters must respect the nighttime curfew, and that troops would not tolerate looting or rioting.

"This is for everyone who died wrongly at the hands of police," said Noy Brown-Frisby, a 35-year-old hairstylist who attended the march with her young daughter.

But she recognised that high crime in the city of 620,000 people complicates relations with the police.

"There is so much tension. The crime is so high that when there is interaction between police and the community it becomes volatile," she said.

Solidarity demonstrations were planned in a number of U.S. cities. Hundreds of people gathered in New York City's Union Square chanting "black man, no justice."


Many Baltimore citizens were hoping to find out the details of Gray's death on Friday when police have said they would conclude their investigation.

But at a news briefing on Wednesday, police spokesman Captain Eric Kowalczyk said the conclusions would not be made public.

"We cannot release all of the information from this investigation to the public because if there is a decision to charge in any event by the state's attorney's office, the integrity of that investigation has to be protected," he said.

The U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a separate probe into possible civil rights violations.


With police and National Guard troops patrolling Baltimore's streets on Wednesday, schools reopened and business resumed.

Baltimore's Major League Baseball team, the Orioles, played the Chicago White Sox in an empty stadium, a sign of the tenuous security situation. Baltimore's Symphony Orchestra staged an impromptu concert for a gathering of several hundred people.

Police have arrested a total of 250 since Monday, 35 of them since a curfew was imposed on Tuesday. Police said some of those arrested may get released and charged later.

When violence erupted on Monday, 19 buildings and dozens of cars were burned, and 20 officers were hurt by rioters throwing stones and bricks.

While the city was returning to normalcy, residents in the most affected neighbourhoods vented their frustration with police and expressed a desire to see at least some of the officers who arrested Gray, held accountable.

"The best (outcome) would be one where the officers were disciplined and officials realized what happened and owned up to their wrongdoing," said Larry Little, 22, a Baltimore resident who joined the march on Wednesday.

Gray had been arrested on April 12 after fleeing from police in a high-crime area and was carrying a switchblade knife. He died a week later and after his funeral on Monday, rioters went on a rampage.

The violence in Baltimore prompted national figures - from the new U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton - to weigh in and vow to work on improving law enforcement and criminal justice in minority communities nationwide.

Lynch, sworn in as attorney general on Monday, called Baltimore's riots "senseless acts of violence" that are counterproductive to the ultimate goal of "developing a respectful conversation within the Baltimore community and across the nation about the way our law enforcement officers interact" with residents.

Clinton on Wednesday urged police departments throughout the country to use body cameras and 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," she said.

The Baltimore neighbourhood that saw the worst of the violence was already filled with many burned-out buildings and vacant lots that had not been rebuilt since the 1968 riots that followed the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

(Additional reporting by Sascha Brodsky in New York and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker)