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Crime & Justiceby Danielle Sweeney and Fern Shen9:50 pmApr 29, 20150

Demanding justice for Freddie Gray, thousands march peacefully today

A diverse crowd, furious about citizen deaths during police encounters, march through Mt. Vernon and downtown Baltimore

Above: Justice Department report confirms what many in Baltimore say they’ve known firsthand. Protest last year after the death of Freddie Gray. (Danielle Sweeney)

Thousands of mostly young demonstrators flooded the streets of Baltimore this afternoon, perhaps the largest crowd yet to demand justice for Freddy Gray after the unexplained fatal spinal injury suffered by the 25-year-old during his arrest by police.

“The whole damn system is guilty as hell! Indict, convict and we’ll send those cops to jail!” the racially-diverse crowd chanted as it followed a truck down St. Paul Street from Penn Station and ended up on Lexington Street alongside of a barricaded and trooper-protected City Hall.

The peaceful march, which stretched for several blocks, continued down Lexington to Gay Street, then turned north, passed under the JFX and eventually wound its way back to the train station.

Similar rallies took place in New York, Boston, Washington, Minneapolis and elsewhere around the country, as questions continue to fester about how Gray’s neck was snapped while in police custody and why no one has been charged in the case.

In Baltimore, marchers said they wanted to demonstrate that their message could be both urgent and peaceful, hoping to avoid the violence and looting that they say distracted from the protests last Saturday and on Monday.

“The mayor said, if we are peaceful, we will not be arrested,” Korey Johnson said with a bullhorn, cautioning participants not to be violent.

The march began at Baltimore's Pennsylvania Station and went down St. Paul Street. (Photo by Danielle Sweeney)

The march began at Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Station and went down St. Paul Street. (Photo by Danielle Sweeney)

Of those who wished to act more aggressively, she said, “I support your political agenda,” but added that violence wouldn’t be part of this event.

A Coalition of Students and Activists

Indeed, the crowd of college and high school students, children and parents pushing strollers, families and senior citizens seemed to reflect a wider coalition of community members than have assembled so far to protest around the case.

“It’s like a Black Eyed Peas concert,” cracked writer and Coppin State University Professor D. Watkins on CNN.

In a New York Times op-ed today, Watkins had a far less sanguine observation about what’s at stake if the protesters’ demands are not met.

“The only option is to rise up,and force Mayor Rawlings-Blake to make what should be an easy choice: Stop protecting the livelihoods of the cops who killed Freddie Gray, or watch Baltimore burn to the ground,” he wrote.

At the train station this afternoon, contingents from Baltimore high schools – together with students from Johns Hopkins University, Towson University, Goucher College, Maryland Institute College of Art and other schools – joined with Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle and other groups.

Also represented were the Baltimore Algebra Project, a student-led group of activists and city high schools alumni, some of whom were marshalls who kept the crowd in the street  and not blocking the sidewalks.

Much of the march took place during the height of rush hour. “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” the crowd repeated.

On St. Paul Street, one protester called for a solution. (Photo by Danielle Sweeney)

On St. Paul Street, one protester called for a solution. (Photo by Danielle Sweeney)

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