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Thousands march in Baltimore to protest black man's death

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - At least 2,000 people protesting the unexplained death of a black man while in police custody marched through downtown Baltimore on Saturday, pausing at one point to confront officers in front of Camden Yards, home of the Orioles baseball team.

In the biggest protest since 25-year-old Freddie Gray died on Sunday, two clusters of marchers chanting “shut it down” started out at different times before merging during the afternoon into a single wave headed toward City Hall.

Gray is the latest in a series of black men around the country who died under questionable circumstances during police encounters. Their deaths have triggered an outcry in the United States over what many see as law enforcement’s unjustified use of force against African-Americans.

Last year, there were weeks of protests across the country following the shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of Eric Garner, in New York City who was placed in a chokehold during an attempted arrest.

Saturday’s protests came a day after Baltimore’s police commissioner conceded that police had failed to provide Gray with timely medical attention for a spinal injury he had suffered sometime after he was apprehended and put inside a transport van. Police have not explained how he sustained the injury. He died a week after his arrest on April 12.

During the march, some of the demonstrators confronted about 50 police officers in front of the baseball stadium, where the Baltimore Orioles were due to play the Boston Red Sox at 7:05 p.m. There were no plans to cancel or postpone the game.

The demonstrators pushed up against a wall of barricades and waved signs at officers, who stood silently in two lines. Some protesters kicked and dented police cars parked nearby but there was no forceful response by the officers.

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“The revolution is here! I’m going to kill you! All of you - guilty!” one demonstrator yelled as he leaned over a barricade.

The marchers then headed for City Hall, blocking traffic on some streets as they passed. Dozens of officers were standing guard at City Hall.

A spokesman for Baltimore Police, which used police helicopters to monitor the marchers, declined to comment on tactics and deployment plans for the marches.

“What I can tell you is that we will ensure the constitutional rights of every citizen in Baltimore,” police spokesman Jeremy Silbert said in an email to Reuters.

Six Baltimore police officers have been suspended in the Gray case, and an internal police investigation is under way.

“We are all united in our demand to indict the six police officers and convict,” said Sharon Black, spokeswoman for People’s Power Assembly, one of the rally organizers.

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On Friday, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said the officers repeatedly failed to give Gray medical assistance and disregarded department regulations by failing to buckle the man into seat restraints in the van.

Police have said Gray fled when officers approached him in a high-crime area, but he was caught a short time later and placed in the van. He was carrying a switchblade knife, police said.

When the van arrived at the police station, an ambulance was called and Gray was taken to a hospital. He died a week later.

Batts said on Friday that investigators were still trying to determine what happened inside the police van. Police said their investigation would be completed by May 1, a day before protesters plan another rally in Baltimore.

The department will turn over its findings to state prosecutors and an independent review will follow.

Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Frank McGurty and Frances Kerry