23 Apr 2015

Protests in Baltimore over Freddie Gray police custody death

Six officers are suspended after Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died in police custody with severe injuries to his neck and spine.

On Wednesday evening, protesters gathered for a fifth day of demonstration. Activists are demanding answers from police over Gray’s death.

Police have identified and suspended with pay the six officers involved in the incident. Five of the officers have provided statements as part of an investigation.

Baltimore police arrested Gray on 12 April after a foot chase. Gray was suspected to be carrying a switchblade and was stopped by three police on bicycles.

We will hold people accountable if we find there was wrongdoing. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Mobile phone footage recorded by a Baltimore resident shows Gray being dragged into a police van with his legs behind him, apparently screaming in pain.

Gray, who suffered from asthma, is reported to have repeatedly asked for medical care while in transit. It is not clear what happened whilst Gray was inside the police van.

After Gray arrived at the Western District police station, paramedics arrived to transfer him to hospital where he underwent double surgery on his spine and spent three days in a coma.

A week after his arrest Gray died from a spinal cord injury.

‘Hold people accountable’

A family attorney said Gray’s spine was “80 per cent severed”. The US Department of Justice is to open an investigation into the incident.

“I’m going to make sure that as we get information that we can confirm, we’re going to put that information out in the public,” Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said.

“I want people to understand that I have no interest in hiding information.

“We will get to the bottom of it, and we will go where the facts lead us. We will hold people accountable if we find there was wrongdoing.”

On Monday Police Commissioner Anthony W Batts said the department would review its policies relating to prisoner transports. He said there were many occasions when medics should have been called during Gray’s arrest.

Gray’s death is the latest symbol of the strained relationship between black communities and American police authorities.

Earlier this month a video of Walter Scott being fatally shot whilst running away from a white police officer in South Caroline caused worldwide outrage. The deaths of Michel Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York also sparked protests across America and in the UK. Further demonstrations are expected in Baltimore today.