Baltimore protests turn violent after nightfall

Thousands of people rallied to protest the death of Freddie Gray, but after sunset a smaller group of them smashed storefronts and attacked police.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand answers in the case of a 25-year-old black man who died in police custody after suffering a fatal spine injury. After hours of peaceful demonstrations, pockets of protesters smashed police car windows and storefronts.

Saturday's protests came a day after Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis said Freddie Gray should have received medical attention at the spot where he was arrested, before he was put inside a police transport van handcuffed and without a seat belt, a violation of the department's policy.

Gray's death on April 19 has intensified a national debate over police treatment of African-Americans. It has been compared to those of unarmed black men who died at the hands of police in New York City and Ferguson, Missouri, cases that sparked social unrest around the U.S.

Gray was arrested after he made eye contact with officers and ran away, police said. Officers held him down, handcuffed him and loaded him into the van. While inside, he became irate and leg cuffs were put on him, police have said.

Authorities have not explained how or when Gray's spine was injured. Video showed him being dragged into a police van, and police have said he rode in it for about 30 minutes before paramedics were called.

Residents voiced their anger Saturday at how the department and the city's officials are handling the investigation into Gray's death.

Protesters threw cans and plastic bottles in the direction of police officers. One protester broke the window of a police cruiser, grabbed a police hat inside and wore it while standing on top of the cruiser with several other protesters.

A small "splinter group" of protesters looted a convenience store and threw tables and chairs through storefront windows, authorities said. Police said Sunday that a total of 34 people were arrested and six officers suffered minor injuries. In her first public comments since Gray's death, his twin sister, Fredricka Gray, appealed for calm.

"My family wants to say, can you all please, please stop the violence?" she said at a news conference with the mayor. "Freddie Gray would not want this."

Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said roughly 1,200 officers were deployed downtown and across the city to try and keep the peace. At least five officers were injured and 12 people were arrested. Batts said he believes the "very violent agitators" are not from Baltimore.

Earlier Saturday, the crowd paused for a moment of silence in front of Shock Trauma, the hospital where Gray died.

Signs in hand, with slogans such as "Jail Killer Police!" and "Unite Here!," demonstrators filled two city blocks and marched to City Hall, where the crowd overtook a grassy plaza.

At a downtown intersection, a dozen marchers laid down in the street during an impromptu "die-in."

Both Commissioner Batts and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who took office in 2010, are African-American. They came in making promises to the inner-city residents and police who spent decades staring each other down in neighborhoods ravaged by crack and heroin.

But with each death of a black man in custody, their efforts to overcome mistrust have hit hard walls of skepticism and outrage.

Batts says he's fired 50 police employees and reduced officer-involved shootings, and the use-of-force reports police must file dropped from 598 in 2012 to 435 in 2014.

But he acknowledged that some cases have "tarnished this badge and the reputation of the department."

Gray is at least the fifth black man to die after police encounters since Batts took charge.

A Baltimore Sun investigation revealed last year that the city has paid roughly $5.7 million in brutality settlements since 2011, involving 102 instances of excessive force.

Batts then asked the U.S. Justice Department to review the department's policies and procedures. Now the Justice Department has opened a second probe, by its Civil Rights division, examining Gray's death.

Baltimore had one of the nation's busiest markets for heroin and crack cocaine when Martin O'Malley ran for mayor in 1999. The future Maryland governor and Democratic presidential candidate imposed a "zero tolerance" policy that did reduce crime, but it also resulted in thousands of arrests without cause.

In 2010, civil rights groups the ACLU and NAACP reached an $870,000 settlement with the city that required police to track their arrests. But by 2012, an independent auditor found Baltimore officers still couldn't justify 35 percent of their arrests.

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