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Protesters Demand 'Justice' in Freddie Gray's Death

Dozens of protesters took to the streets on Monday to decry the death of a 25-year-old Baltimore man who died Sunday.
/ Source: NBC News

Dozens of protesters took to the streets on Monday to decry the death of a 25-year-old Baltimore man who died Sunday.

Freddy Gray died a week after an encounter with police that left him with a severed spine, according to a lawyer for his family. Gray had been arrested for yet-undisclosed reasons April 12 after fleeing police on foot. It was unclear when Gray's injury occurred. His death was confirmed Sunday by the University of Maryland Medical Center.

On Monday, protesters wearing shirts that read #blacklivesmatter and carrying signs calling for "justice" and chanting "Tell the truth and stop the lies. Freddie Gray didn't have to die" gathered in front of City Hall.

They also chanted "Hand up don’t shoot" and "I can’t breathe" — references to the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August and the last words of Eric Garner, who died last July after being placed in a chokehold by New York police officers.

Both men, like Gray, were African American.

The phrases have become a rallying cry for those who say that African Americans have been targeted unfairly and often face harsher treatment in brushes with police.

The encounter between Gray and police also touches on the very tense relationship between Baltimore's African-American community and local police.

In 2013, Tyrone West died while in the custody of Baltimore police officers. The Maryland State Attorney's office found officers were within legal limits when they used pepper spray, fists and batons to subdue West, who was resisting arrest.

The Maryland State Attorney's office also decided not to file charges against Baltimore police officers who tackled Anthony Anderson. Anderson later died.

"I have a son that lives in that neighborhood, my family that lives in that neighborhood and quite frankly, we are very concerned," said Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon, president of the Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "We're not fearful, we're not tired but we are determined to fight the good fight ... because the police department has been allowed to kill African American men without any type of consequence whatsoever."

A Baltimore Sun investigation revealed that, over the past four years, there have been more than 100 cases in which individuals settled with the city for police use of excessive force.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the city does have a history of police brutality.

"I think this city has had a history of that," Rawlings-Blake told NBC. "I think this country has had a history of that ... and I've been very determined during my administration to repair the relationship between the police and the community, increase training, and to work to reduce the incidence of police misconduct, brutality— allegations of brutality and excessive force with the police department."

Rawlings-Blake said her administration will be paying close attention to the investigation. She told MSNBC on Monday that she was also in the process of setting up a meeting with the Gray family.

"We're going to get to the bottom of what happened," Rawlings-Blake told NBC. "We know that Mr. Gray was arrested and during the time that he was in police custody, he received significant injuries and succumbed to those injuries."

William Murphy, a lawyer for Gray's family, said Gray was healthy before the encounter and that cops chased him "without any evidence he committed a crime."

"His take-down and arrest without probable cause occurred under a police video camera, which taped everything including the police dragging and throwing Freddy into a police vehicle while he screamed in pain," Murphy said in a statement, adding that Gray's spine was 80 percent severed at his neck while in police custody.

He said Gray "lapsed into a coma, died, was resuscitated, stayed in a coma and on Monday, underwent extensive surgery at Shock Trauma (a Baltimore hospital) to save his life." Gray "clung to life for seven days" before his death Sunday morning, Murphy added.

"We believe the police are keeping the circumstances of Freddie's death secret until they develop a version of events that will absolve them of all responsibility," Murphy said. "However, his family and the citizens of Baltimore deserve to know the real truth; and we will not stop until we get justice for Freddie."

Those who knew Gray question assertions that he was violent with police.

"Freddie wasn't that type of dude," said long-time friend, David Reid. "When you say Freddie you say laughs. When you say Freddie you gonna' play fight, you gonna’ laugh, you gonna’ dance you gonna’ sing. He wasn't the type to hurt nobody. Probably never hurt anybody in his life."

— Tom Costello, Halimah Abdullah and William J. Gorta