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Thousands take to streets of Baltimore in peaceful protest

Protesters outside Baltimore's empty Oriole Park stadium on Wednesday.
Protesters outside Baltimore's empty Oriole Park stadium on Wednesday. AFP

Thousands of young protesters marched through downtown Baltimore and demonstrated in New York on Wednesday demanding justice for an African-American man who died of severe spinal injuries sustained in police custody.

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In contrast to Monday, when violence erupted and stores were looted, the rally that started at Baltimore’s main train station was good-natured and included black and white demonstrators, some of them linking arms and chanting: “No justice, no peace! No racists, no peace!”

Many in the rally, which was headed for City Hall and appeared to be gathering numbers on the way, were school or college students, an AFP reporter at the march said, as a few thousand also massed in Union Square, in New York’s Lower Manhattan.

A small-scale demonstration also took hold in Boston, US media said.

Some in the Baltimore crowd held placards, one reading, “Killer cops deserve cell blocks;” a few wore shirts reading, “Amnesty International observer.”

The 2,000 National Guard personnel who have flooded the city this week kept a low profile, although authorities have said they are primed to swoop should the march spark unrest like that which flared following the funeral of Freddie Gray, 25, on Monday.

His death was the latest instance in the United States of a black man succumbing at the hands of police a situation that has stirred resentment among African Americans who believe they are the victims of police brutality.

That anger sparked coast-to-coast demonstrations in major US cities after a white policeman shot dead an unarmed black teenager in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson in August.

Baltimore authorities urged calm and warned that they would again enforce a citywide curfew beginning at 10:00 pm (0200 GMT Thursday) and lasting until 5:00 am.

Tuesday night’s curfew was largely respected, although police made 35 arrests and warned that they were assessing the volatile situation minute-by-minute.

Maryland State Governor Larry Hogan said he had been “very encouraged” by the last 24 hours and said a semblance of normality was returning to Baltimore, a gritty city of 620,000 about an hour’s drive from Washington.

But he cautioned: “We are not out of the woods yet.”

And he warned demonstrators to respect the curfew: “There are peaceful protests happening tonight. We want to make sure individuals can exercise their First Amendment rights and express their concerns.

“We also want to stress and remind everyone that there is a 10:00 pm curfew in place in the city and I urge everyone in Baltimore to get off the streets at 10:00 pm.”

‘I was shocked’

Reflecting on Tuesday night, which was tense but largely trouble-free, Baltimore Police Captain Eric Kowalczyk said: “Last night the curfew went into effect at 10:00 pm. We have had 35 arrests.

“Of those 35 arrests, 34 were adults and one was a juvenile.

He added: “It is reflective of what we saw yesterday with very peaceful activity and what we are used to seeing in the city of Baltimore.”

Police said they were keeping a keen eye on social media – used by protesters to coordinate their action.

Amid the violence on Monday, the Baltimore Orioles postponed two Major League Baseball games against the Chicago White Sox and opted to bar fans from Wednesday’s contest at Camden Yards.

The 8-2 victory for the home team was played before empty stands.

Among the many startling images to emerge from the riots in the city was that of an infuriated mother hitting her teenage son repeatedly for joining the demonstrations on Monday and dragging him away.

“I just lost it,” said Toya Graham, a single mother of six.

“I was shocked, I was angry, because you never want to see your child out there doing that,” she added, speaking to CBS News.

(AFP)

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