Why the peaceful protest of Freddie Gray's death turned violent

A demonstration in Baltimore, Md. turned violent when protesters clashed with baseball fans outside of Camden Yards ballpark.

Patrick Semansky/AP
A protestor stands on a mailbox outside of Oriole Park at Camden Yards before a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles after a rally for Freddie Gray, Saturday, April 25, 2015, in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van.

A protest of the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died in police custody earlier this month, turned violent yesterday when demonstrators clashed with baseball fans outside of Camden Yards ballpark.

Although the protest began peacefully, it ended with six damaged squad cars and riot police, as well as police on horseback, pushing protesters away from the ballpark. Most protesters disbanded when the violence broke out, leaving only about 200 of the more than 1,000 original protesters on the scene. Approximately 12 demonstrators, who were deemed most responsible for inciting the violence, were arrested.

Gray’s sister, Fredericka, spoke at a news conference to dissuade protesters from turning to violence in her brother’s name.

“My family wants to say: Can y’all please, please stop the violence? Freddie Gray would not want that,” she said. “Freddie’s father and mother don’t want no violence. Violence does not get justice.”

Demonstrators remained peaceful as they marched from Sandtown-Winchester, the neighborhood where Gray lived, to Baltimore City Hall. Capt. Eric Kowalczyk told the Washington Post that a police helicopter was watching from above but that otherwise the police intended to keep a low profile.

But when protesters approached Camden Yards, violence arose outside of several bars where fans were gathered before the game. Tables and trash cans were toppled, protesters yelled at patrons, a restaurant's window was shattered with a bottle, and a woman’s purse was also stolen.

The remaining demonstrators then moved to attack empty squad cars parked nearby, breaking windows and windshields with metal barriers set up for the protest. The police then stepped in to shut down the protest.

Spectators at Camden Yards were told to remain inside the ballpark until further notice, although the lockdown was lifted 25 minutes later when the area outside the stadium was cleared.

Until this protest, Baltimore, Md. had remained peaceful following the death of Gray – particularly when compared to Ferguson, Mo., where protests following the death of Michael Brown in August frequently devolved into violence with the police.

“I am, to a degree, disappointed,” Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said at a news conference. “We worked very hard to allow the protest. The vast majority of people expressed their views and went home. A small number of people felt they had to turn this into an ugly event, an ugly day.”

Gray died on April 19, apparently after suffering a severe spinal injury while in police custody. When and how Gray got the injury is currently under investigation, although it was either during the arrest or on the 30-minute drive to the police station. Despite being handcuffed and shackled, Gray was not buckled into his seat and was ignored when he requested medical attention.

Police have admitted their treatment of Gray went against protocol, and Batts says that the matter is still under investigation.

“We know that he was not buckled into the transportation wagon, as he should have been,” Batts said. “No excuses for that. Period. We know our police employees failed to give him medical attention in a timely manner, multiple times. There are still many questions that we still don’t have the answers to. We will continue to follow the evidence wherever it goes.”

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