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Baltimore Demands Justice After Detainee's Death

Hundreds of protesters continue to march through the streets of downtown Baltimore in the eastern U.S. state of Maryland, demanding justice for a 25-year-old man who died in police custody this week.

Chanting "All night, all day, we want justice for Freddie Gray," the protesters on Thursday started from City Hall and police department headquarters and wound their way through several neighborhoods.

No violence was reported, but Baltimore police said on their Twitter feed that at least two people were taken into custody for disorderly conduct and destruction of property.

As the protests continued, the governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, called in state troopers to help keep order.

Gray's death Sunday, a week after his arrest, has triggered daily protests.

Spine nearly severed

A family attorney told VOA that Gray's spine was nearly severed after police took him into custody April 12.

The cause of his fatal injuries remains unclear, and the case is under local and federal investigation.

On the spot where Gray was taken into custody, puddles of melted candle wax have hardened around liquor bottles left in tribute.

In quick succession on that Sunday, Gray made eye contact with a police officer, ran away, was caught with a switchblade on his hip, and was dragged into a police van.

"All they said was, he looked at us, and ran, and then we chased. That doesn't meet any legal standard for stopping or arresting somebody," said Judge William Murphy Jr., a lawyer representing Gray's family. "The only thing this kid did wrong by running from the police was that he didn't run fast enough."

Six police officers are on paid leave as investigators look into what killed Gray.

Long-standing tensions

Residents in the Sandtown neighborhood, where Gray was arrested, told VOA they want answers for what they say is a long-standing face-off between police and the black community.

Melissa, who lives in Sandtown, says the shine on police badges wore off long ago for her. The unsolved stabbing death of her cousin last year only makes it worse.

“They’ve been given badges to be bullies. They’ve been given badges to terrorize," she said, standing in front of the memorial to Gray.

There is no justice, Melissa believes, even in the decision to place the officers on leave. "Suspended with pay? What is that?" she asked. "You giving them a paid vacation for killing somebody?"

Shawn, a Sandtown resident who also passed by the memorial on Wednesday, said he grew up fearing police.

“This is the reason why we run — because we already know there’s a 90 percent chance that if you don’t run, you’re going to get locked up for something," he said.

“It’s sad that we had to take this death to make publicity for this when we’ve been talking about this for years," Shawn added.

Answers needed

The Baltimore Police Department has promised more answers by next week. A second person who was in the police van that morning with Gray is being treated as a witness, according to an agency statement on Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced this week it also will review the case, which follows a string of high-profile, police-involved killings that have raised allegations of abuses against minorities around the country.

Baltimore residents have held several rallies since Gray's death and plan to continue protests through the end of the week.

"We can't bring Freddie back," Murphy, the family's attorney, told VOA. "But we can use this tragedy as an opportunity and as a stimulus to doing the right thing. Although that wouldn't be a fair exchange for a human life, it would mean that he didn't die in vain."