April 26, 2015 / 1:01 AM / 4 years ago

Wake held in Baltimore for black man who died after arrest

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - A wake was held on Sunday for the 25-year-old Baltimore man who died after being taken into police custody and sustaining a mysterious spinal injury, a death that has angered many residents of this predominantly African-American city.

The wake for Freddie Gray on Sunday afternoon came the day after thousands of demonstrators marched through downtown Baltimore to protest police brutality against minorities, especially black men like Gray, who died on April 19.

As darkness fell on Saturday, about 100 protesters splintered off and threw bottles, metal barricades and other objects at police officers and their cruisers, authorities said.

It was the latest expression of an national outcry over a white-dominated culture of law enforcement in the United States that critics say disrespects and brutalizes African-Americans.

Ricardo Flood, who said he did not know Gray but was frightened by the police violence, stood outside the Tudor-style funeral home on Sunday, waving a sign in support of Gray’s family. “All I can do is pray for them,” he said.

Gray died a week after patrol officers arrested him following a foot chase though a high-crime area of the city. It was not clear why Gray was detained but officers said he was carrying a switchblade knife, and he was put inside a transport van.

At some point, Gray suffered the spinal injury that would lead to his death a week later. Anthony Batts, the city’s police commissioner, acknowledged on Friday that officers repeatedly failed to give him timely medical attention while in custody.

The head of the Baltimore police union called that assertion premature and said it was apparently “politically driven.”

Gray is one of a number of black men who have died under questionable circumstances during police encounters in recent months. Last year, weeks of protests followed the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York City.

About 2,000 people marched on Saturday afternoon through downtown Baltimore, pausing at the Camden Yards ballpark, the home of the Orioles professional baseball team, where some demonstrators shouted chants at officers standing guard.

Citywide, police arrested 34 people who ignored orders to disperse, Batts said, and at least six officers were hurt in skirmishes. Several police vehicles were damaged.

“A small contingent of yesterday’s protesters caused violent disruptions downtown and in west Baltimore last night and early this morning after what had been mostly peaceful protests,” police said in a statement.

Timeka Patterson holds a sign in support of Freddie Gray, who died following an arrest in Baltimore, at his wake in Baltimore, Maryland April 26, 2015. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The department beefed up its presence downtown and across Baltimore on Sunday. Extra officers will be deployed in the area through the night and into the week.

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

Protesters have called for the prosecution of the six officers involved in Gray’s arrest and for reforming police tactics. Police have yet to explain when and how Gray was injured.

Standing in the street outside the wake on Sunday, a small group of people held signs reading, “Honk for Freddie.” Passing cars frequently sounded their horns.

Among those attended the viewing was Dwayne Peay, who called for calm out of respect for the wishes of Gray’s family.

“We want no violence, just peace for everyone, including the Baltimore police department,” Peay said after exiting the funeral home.

Funeral services for Gray are scheduled for Monday morning, followed by his burial.

Slideshow (15 Images)

Several events were postponed or canceled on Sunday due to safety concerns after Saturday’s protests, including the SPCA’s annual March for the Animals fundraiser, the group said on its website.

Sunday afternoon’s game between the Orioles and the Red Sox at Camden Yards went ahead on schedule.

Additional reporting by Lacey Johnson and Laila Kearney; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Leslie Adler

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