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Baltimore Residents Demand Answers After Detainee's Death

Baltimore Residents Demand Answers After Detainee's Death
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On the spot where Baltimore police took Freddie Gray into custody April 12, 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.

He died a week later from what a family attorney says was an internally severed spinal cord.

"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."

Suspended, with pay

Six police officers in the eastern U.S. state of Maryland are on paid leave as investigators look into what killed the 25-year-old after he was taken into police custody.

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

Melissa lives in Sandtown. She said 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," 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.

More answers

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 would 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."