By Scott Malone and Ian Simpson
Baltimore residents cautiously celebrated news on Friday that six police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray face criminal charges, a marked contrast to recent rioting over fraught relations between police and the African-American community.
Residents shouted with joy, embraced one another and honked car horns to hail the swift action by Baltimore city’s chief prosecutor to file charges in the death of Gray, a black man who suffered severe spinal injuries while in police custody.
“I am proud for Baltimore,” said Mae McKinney, 48, waving a large American flag. “I feel so happy, mostly happy that this wasn’t swept under the rug and someone did something about it.”
A jubilant crowd gathered in West Baltimore, where Gray was arrested on April 12, chanting “Freddie! Freddie!” and dancing on top of cars.
Uniformed police officials mingled in the crowd, while others in riot gear and National Guard troops stood to the side. Officers on horseback also were on hand.
Although largely peaceful protests followed Gray’s death, rioting broke out on Monday after his funeral. Dozens of buildings and vehicles were burned, 20 police officers were injured and more than 200 people were arrested.
“We got what we wanted,” said Tia Tull, 25, one of thousands of marchers celebrating in West Baltimore. “If the kids didn’t do that on Monday, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, a civil rights activist, said he agreed.
“It was the people out in the streets that made this happen,” Sekou said. “It is up to us to stay out here, to keep up the pressure.”
Later in the evening, police arrested several protesters who defied the city’s 10 p.m. ET curfew.
Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby’s decision stood in sharp 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 and grand juries declined to indict them. Those cases set off weeks of sometimes violent protests.
Despite the relief that swept through Baltimore, some residents noted it was a single step in an ongoing struggle to improve relations between police and poor minority communities, particularly young black men.
“Justice still hasn’t prevailed yet,” said college student Earl Tillman, 46. “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.
Mosby said the Maryland medical examiner had ruled Gray’s death a homicide. Gray, 25, succumbed to his injuries in a hospital on April 19. One officer was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter and two others with manslaughter.
“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,” Mosby said at a news conference.
Activists elsewhere in the nation marked the Baltimore decision.
In New Orleans, about 200 protesters marched to the steps of the federal courthouse, holding signs bearing the names of 64 residents, most of them black males, they said have been killed by police since the 1970s.
“This is a human rights issue,” said Dustin Ruttenberg, a 24-year-old social work student.
In New York, a crowd of protesters waved banners for Gray as part of a larger May 1 International Labor Day demonstration touching on workers rights and wages as well.
“May Day for Freddie Gray,” protesters shouted through loudspeakers. One person was observed being arrested by New York police.
By Scott Malone and Ian Simpson