Residents shouted with joy, embraced and honked car horns on Friday on the same Baltimore streets where rioters had clashed with police earlier this week in anger over the death of a black man who suffered severe spinal injuries while in custody.
The news that prosecutors have criminally charged all six police officers involved in the April 12 arrest of Freddie Gray, however, did not salve residents’ anger over poor relations between police and African-American communities.
“Justice still hasn’t prevailed yet,” said community college student Earl Tillman, 46, standing in front of Baltimore City Hall. “We have to get hold of this problem. America does. This is a much bigger issue than Baltimore.”
Tillman said he would have liked to see more serious charges filed against more of the officers and cautioned that the officers could escape conviction at trial.
Hundreds of people gathered at the scene of some of Monday night’s rioting in the West Baltimore neighborhood, closely watched by National Guard troops and police officers.
Activists hailed the relatively swift action by Baltimore city’s chief prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby, because it stood in contrast to cases last year in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City where prosecutors found officers had not broken the law in the deaths of unarmed black men. Those killings also set off weeks of sometimes violent protests.
Mosby said the Maryland medical examiner had ruled a homicide the death of Gray, 25, who succumbed to his injuries in hospital on April 19. One officer was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter and two others with manslaughter.
The African-American prosecutor, whose parents and other relatives had been police officers, said the accusations were not an indictment of the entire Baltimore police force. She sought to calm demonstrators and the general public.
“To those that are angry, hurt or have their own experiences of injustice at the hands of police officers, I urge you to channel the energy peacefully as we prosecute this case,” Mosby said at a news conference. “I have heard your calls for ‘no justice, no peace,’ however, your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of Freddie Gray.”
The charges came quicker than most people expected. Police on Thursday handed over their internal report on Gray’s case to Mosby’s office on Thursday, a day ahead of schedule. The prosecutor told reporters she had begun investigating the day after Gray’s arrest.
A week of largely peaceful protests followed Gray’s death but rioting broke out on Monday after his funeral. Dozens of buildings and vehicles were burned, 20 police officers injured and more than 200 people arrested.
Police in riot gear had taken to the streets on Friday morning in larger numbers than they had a day earlier, leaving many to worry what Mosby’s announcement would reveal.
Activists planned to carry on with rallies scheduled around the United States to mark International Labor Day.
“I am shocked that they were charged but I am happy they were charged,” said James Crump, 46, a medical technician. “People are happy and celebrating, and it’s not even New Year’s Eve.”
Others said they hoped the charges and eventual trial would help to ease the distrust that has long simmered in this mostly black city, which has pockets of extreme poverty and crime.
“I think justice has been served,” said 21-year-old Renay Battle. “Now they’ve charged the officers, I feel as though Baltimore is going to come back together and everything is going to come back to normal.”