BALTIMORE (Reuters) - Mourners gathered at a Baltimore funeral home on Sunday to remember a 25-year-old black man who died a week ago while in police custody, an unexplained death that brought thousands to the city’s downtown to protest police violence.
The wake for Freddie Gray on Sunday afternoon came the day after the largest demonstration yet since he died on April 19 and two weeks after a foot chase with patrol officers, his eventual arrest and his ride in a police transport van.
Anthony Batts, the city’s police commissioner, said on Friday that officers who detained Gray failed to give him timely medical attention for a spinal injury he suffered while in custody.
The head of the Baltimore police union said this assertion was premature and apparently “politically driven.”
Gray joined a growing number of black men who have died under questionable circumstances during police encounters in recent months. The incidents have triggered an outcry over the use of force by law enforcement against African-Americans.
Last year, weeks of protests followed the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York City.
About 2,000 people marched on Saturday afternoon through downtown Baltimore, pausing at the Camden Yards ballpark, the home of the Orioles professional baseball team, where some demonstrators shouted chants at officers standing guard.
As darkness fell, about 100 protesters splintered off and threw bottles, metal barricades and other objects at police officers and their cruisers, authorities said.
The windows of several businesses were smashed, Police Commissioner Batts said.
Police arrested 34 people who ignored orders to disperse, Batts said, and at least six officers were hurt in the skirmishes. Several police vehicles were damaged.
“A small contingent of yesterday’s protesters caused violent disruptions downtown and in west Baltimore last night and early this morning after what had been mostly peaceful protests,” police said in a statement.
The department beefed up its presence downtown and across Baltimore on Sunday to assure public safety.
Fredericka Gray, Freddie’s twin sister, joined Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at a news conference, urging calm.
“Freddie’s father and mother do not want violence, violence does not get justice,” she said.
Six Baltimore police officers have been suspended in the Gray case, and an internal police investigation is under way.
Rawlings-Blake, who has called for answers in Gray’s death, said agitators at the Saturday demonstration disrupted the otherwise peaceful political action.
“I am profoundly disappointed to see the violence in our city this evening,” she said on Saturday.
Much of the violence occurred near Camden Yards, where the Orioles were playing the Boston Red Sox. Toward the end of the game, fans were told to stay in place because officials were concerned about safety.
Protesters have called for the prosecution of the six officers involved in Gray’s arrest and for reforming police tactics. Police have yet to explain when and how Gray was injured.
Funeral services for Gray are scheduled for Monday morning, followed by his burial.
Additional reporting by Lacey Johnson adn Laila Kearney; Writing by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Nick Macfie, Rosalind Russell and Jeffrey Benkoe