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Protesters Hope To Sustain Momentum In Baltimore

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The curfew in Baltimore is now over. The city's mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, made the announcement this morning. Mayor Rawlings-Blake instituted the curfew after riots broke out following the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man who died in police custody. Since then, demonstrators have taken to the streets daily. On Friday, the state's attorney announced charges against six police officers in Gray's death, and she asked for peace. Yesterday, protesters gathered again at city hall. In a moment, we'll hear from a former mayor of Baltimore on how to move that city beyond this crisis. But first, Christopher Connelly of member station WYPR gives us a picture of yesterday's rally.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Chanting) All night, all day...

UNIDENTIFIED DEMONSTRATORS: (Chanting) We will fight for Freddie Gray.

CHRISTOPHER CONNELLY, BYLINE: The march started near the northwest Baltimore neighborhood where Freddie Gray lived and was arrested without probable cause, according to the prosecutor. As they moved towards city hall, the 200-or-so marchers passed small shops and carryout restaurants, boarded-up row homes and enthusiastic observers who raised fists in solidarity. Collynn Riggs says Freddie Gray's death makes her worry for her two sons.

COLLYNN RIGGS: It hurts. It hurts. Even if it's not related to you, it touches you, and it hurts.

CONNELLY: As the protesters marched by, inside Celebrity Cuts Barbershop, it's a typical, packed Saturday. Barber Raheem Mitchell says it's beautiful to see black people coming together, but he's skeptical.

RAHEEM MITCHELL: Marching never did anything for black people, actually. I mean, you can march all you want to, but look at - the situation's still the same.

CONNELLY: Outside the shop, Jasmine Campbell says black people in Baltimore are treated like they're criminals, even though just a few commit actual crimes.

JASMINE CAMPBELL: OK, penalize them for what they are doing. Don't penalize us all because all of us are not the same. And look, they're still doing it.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Chanting) What do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED DEMONSTRATORS: (Chanting) Justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Chanting) When do we want it?

UNIDENTIFIED DEMONSTRATORS: (Chanting) Now.

CONNELLY: The marchers ended up at city hall, where a racially diverse crowd from different neighborhoods and beyond Baltimore packed into War Memorial Plaza. Courtney Watters brought his son.

COURTNEY WATTERS: He's 12.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Eleven.

WATTERS: Eleven, excuse me (laughter).

CONNELLY: However old he is, Watters says it's important for kids to see democracy in action.

WATTERS: Show them how peaceful protests are supposed to be and how you can affect change by coming out and having a voice.

CONNELLY: Despite Friday's announcement of charges against the officers, speaker after speaker at the rally exhorted the crowd not to let go of the momentum, but how to move forward seemed up for debate. Non-violence, some said. Others, like Baltimore activist Kwame Rose, said that the violence a week ago forced the world to pay attention.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KWAME ROSE: We made a statement. The world heard us. Then they heard that the youth of Baltimore city are going to get justice by any means necessary. So if we got to burn a couple things down - I'm not saying do it - but I'm saying that we are at a war right now because...

CONNELLY: After the speeches, demonstrators marched back toward the neighborhood where a young man's death forced a divided city to grapple with its deep and unsettled problems. For NPR News, I'm Christopher Connelly in Baltimore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.