Residents welcome US prosecutor’s decision to charge police officer with murder and five others with lesser crimes.
Thousands of people have attended a victory rally in the United States city of Baltimore after criminal charges were laid against the police officers involved in the death of a black man in custody.
Saturday’s march followed a decision by Baltimore’s top prosecutor to file criminal charges, ranging from second-degree murder to assault, against the six police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray, 25.
Gray’s death from spinal injuries a week after his April 12 arrest became a rallying cry against brutality and social inequality in the city.
The officers turned themselves in at the city jail on Friday afternoon. All were later released on bonds of between $250,000 and $350,000.
Marilyn Mosby, the Maryland state attorney, said on Friday that Gray’s arrest was illegal and unjustified, and that his neck was broken because he was handcuffed, shackled and placed head-first into a police van.
Mosby’s announcement triggered celebrations across the same Baltimore streets that were hit with unrest just four days earlier, when Gray’s funeral led to riots and looting.
People danced in the streets, chanting “Freddie” to celebrate the charges.
Al Jazeera spoke to some of the protesters, with many cautious about whether the courts would ensure justice for Gray.
“‘Just charges being applied to these officers doesn’t mean the injustices are just going to stop and go away… the judicial system repeatedly has shown us it can never be won in the judicial courts,” said Bryan Castro, a Baltimore resident.
“I think we need to now just wait it out. Of course, not get comfortable or relaxed, but I think we need to wait it out and see what happens,” said another protester, James Jackson, who had taken part in protests during the civil rights era.
Al Jazeera’s John Hendren, reporting from Baltimore, said people were “somewhat surprised and happy that someone is going to face accountability”.
“It is rare in the United States to see a police officer charged with homicide and even rarer to see convictions,” Hendren said.
Hendren said it didn’t seem to matter that three of the police officers charged were African Americans.
“People here are saying it is not about black or white, it is about blue – that is the colour the police wear,” Hendren said.
“They say African Americans are most likely to be the victims, whatever the colour of the officers.”
Worst unrest in ‘decades’
The swift decision by Mosby, who has been in the position only since January, to charge the six officers caught many by surprise in a city hit on Monday night by its worst civil unrest in decades.
The police had no reason to stop or chase after Gray, Mosby said. “They falsely accused him of having an illegal switchblade when in fact it was a legal pocketknife.”
|Baltimore: Anatomy of an American City|
The officer who drove the police vehicle in which Gray was taken after his arrest was charged with second-degree murder, which could put him in prison for 30 years if convicted.
Mosby, who rejected the police union’s call for a special prosecutor, earned praise from protesters and Gray’s family.
“We are satisfied with today’s charges,” Gray’s stepfather, Richard Shipley, told a news conference. “These charges are an important step in getting justice for Freddie.”
But a lawyer hired by the police union insisted the officers did nothing wrong. Attorney Michael Davey said that Mosby had committed “an egregious rush to judgement”.
“We have grave concerns about the fairness and integrity of the prosecution of our officers,” Davey said.
The city’s police union questioned the prosecutor’s impartiality, accusing her of a rush to judgement and demanding she recuse herself from the case.
Even some of those who support Mosby’s stand worry further violence might erupt if she fails to win convictions.