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Baltimore Mayor Wants Answers in Detainee's Death

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake speaks in front of local faith leaders at a news conference regarding the death of Freddie Gray, in Baltimore, Maryland, April 24, 2015.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake speaks in front of local faith leaders at a news conference regarding the death of Freddie Gray, in Baltimore, Maryland, April 24, 2015.

The mayor of Baltimore has lent her voice to the hundreds of protesters demanding justice for a 25-year-old man who died in police custody earlier this week.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Friday she wanted answers in the death of Freddie Gray who died a week after suffering a spinal cord injury while being arrested.

The mayor also thanked the demonstrators for being peaceful.

Chanting "all night, all day, we want justice for Freddie Gray," hundreds have taken to the streets of Baltimore since Gray's death Sunday. A family attorney told VOA that Gray's spine was nearly severed after police took him into custody April 12.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake said Friday, she wanted to know why police officers apparently did not follow the policy requiring that all prisoners wear seatbelts while being transported, and why they did not call for medical assistance after Gray asked for it.

The Baltimore police acknowledged on Thursday that Gray was not wearing a seatbelt while in the back of the van that took him to the police station. Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said officers were slow to recognize that Mr. Gray, who apparently had asthma, needed medical attention.

Batts on Friday refused calls to resign. He added that police had received a ``preliminary verbal report'' from the medical examiner on Gray. He did not disclose the results of that report.

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. Gray’s funeral is scheduled for Monday.
Residents in the Sandtown neighborhood, where Gray was arrested, told VOA they want answers for what they say is a longstanding face-off between police and the black community.
Melissa lives in Sandtown. She 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? 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."

“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.

The Baltimore Police Department has promised more answers by next week. A second person in the police van that morning 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."

Watch related video report by VOA's Victoria Macchi

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