More than 1,000 demonstrators chanting “shut it down” marched through Baltimore on Saturday to protest the death of a black man who died after being taken into police custody.
Baltimore’s police commissioner said on Friday that Freddie Gray, 25, had been denied timely medical attention for a spinal injury suffered after police apprehended him following a foot chase. Police have not explained how he sustained the injury.
At least 1,500 people had gathered by midafternoon at the spot in West Baltimore where Gray had been detained on April 12 by a police patrol and placed inside a transport van. Gray died on Sunday, a week after his arrest.
Gray’s death is the latest in a series of deaths of black men that have triggered an outcry in the United States over the use of excessive force by law enforcement.
Malik Shabazz, an attorney and president of Black Lawyers for Justice, used a megaphone to tell the crowd: “We’ve got to shut this city down. … We don’t fear no police today.”
As two police helicopters circled overhead, many demonstrators carried signs reading “Stop racist police terror” and “Jobs not police killings” and chanted “Shut it down.”
Earlier, Shabazz said his group intended to block streets of the city, whose population is largely African-American.
A spokesman for the Baltimore Police declined to comment on tactics and deployment plans for the marches.
“What I can tell you is that we will ensure the constitutional rights of every citizen in Baltimore,” Jeremy Silbert said in an email to Reuters.
A preliminary autopsy report found that Gray had suffered a spinal injury. Police have not explained the cause.
On Friday, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said the officers repeatedly failed to give Gray medical assistance and disregarded department regulations by failing to buckle the man into seat restraints in the van.
Six Baltimore police officers have been suspended in the Gray case, and an internal police investigation is under way. The department will turn over its findings to state prosecutors and an independent review will follow.
“We are all united in our demand to indict the six police officers and convict,” said Sharon Black, spokeswoman for People’s Power Assembly, one of the rally organizers.
Last year, there were weeks of protests across the country following the shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of Eric Garner, in New York City who was placed in a chokehold during an attempted arrest.
Police in Baltimore this week gave a wide berth to demonstrators, avoiding the paramilitary tactics used in Ferguson, Missouri, where protests turned violent.
In general, Baltimore police have emulated the more accommodative approach taken by New York police during protests over the death of Garner, a father of six.
Police have said Gray fled when officers approached him in a high-crime area, but he was caught a short time later and placed in the van. He was carrying a switchblade knife, police said.
When the van arrived at the police station, an ambulance was called and Gray was taken to a hospital. He died a week later.
Batts said on Friday that investigators were still trying to determine what happened inside the police van. Police said their investigation would be completed by May 1, a day before protesters plan another rally in Baltimore.
Civil rights groups have launched their own probe of the Gray incident and are going door to door to interview possible witnesses, said Black, the People’s Power Assembly organizer.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Frank McGurty and Frances Kerry)