Photos: Peaceful Protests in Baltimore After Death Follows an Arrest

2015-04-24T022314Z_1968794070_GF10000070806_RTRMADP_3_USA-POLICE-BALTIMORE
Ninth-grader Tremaine Holmes shakes hands with Captain Erik Pecha in front of the Baltimore Police Department Western District station during a protest against the death in police custody of Freddie Gray in Baltimore April 23, 2015. Sait Serkan Gurbuz/Reuters

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - The mayor of Baltimore praised the citizens who organized five days of peaceful protests over the death of a black man in police custody and vowed after meeting with clergy leaders on Friday to find answers in the case.

The largely black city has seen daily marches and demonstrations since Sunday, when 25-year-old Freddie Gray died of a neck injury sustained when police arrested him a week earlier.

2015-04-24T022325Z_2124146125_GF10000070800_RTRMADP_3_USA-POLICE-BALTIMORE Children gather in front of the Baltimore Police Department Western District station during a protest against the death in police custody of Freddie Gray in Baltimore April 23, 2015. Sait Serkan Gurbuz/Reuters

The incident was the latest in the string of deaths of black men at the hands of police, which have prompted waves of protest across the United Statessince the deaths last year of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York.

Unlike in Ferguson, where weeks of peaceful protests were punctuated by several nights of rioting, arson and looting, the protests in Baltimore have seen only a handful of arrests and no major violence.

2015-04-24T205405Z_2_LYNXMPEB3N0YD_RTROPTP_4_USA-POLICE-BALTIMORE Demonstrators gather in front of the Baltimore Police Department Western District station to protest against the death in police custody of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, April 23, 2015. Sait Serkan Gurbuz/Reuters

This city of 620,000 people will face a major demonstration on Saturday, with police estimating more than 1,000 protesters will gather for a march from the site of Gray's arrest to City Hall.

"I want to commend the members of our community for their commitment for peaceful and respectful protests during this process," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said after meeting with local clergy. "Our commitment is clear. They demand answers."

2015-04-24T205405Z_2_LYNXMPEB3N0YA_RTROPTP_4_USA-POLICE-BALTIMORE Demonstrators pretend to be arrested in front of the Baltimore Police Department Western District station to protest against the death in police custody of Freddie Gray in Baltimore April 23, 2015. Sait Serkan/Reuters

Six Baltimore officers have been suspended with pay over the incident.

The city's police commissioner, Anthony Batts, said the department would be releasing video on Friday taken around the time of Gray's arrest and that it had received a "preliminary verbal report" from the medical examiner on Gray. He did not disclose the results of that report.

2015-04-24T205405Z_2_LYNXMPEB3M0Y6_RTROPTP_4_USA-POLICE-BALTIMORE Maryland State Delegate Keith E. Haynes, speaks to the crowd outside of the Baltimore Police Department's Western District police station during a rally for Freddie Gray, in Baltimore, April 21, 2015. Jose Luis Magana/Reuters

Batts, who like Rawlings-Blake is black, added that the investigation was focusing on the multiple stops that the police vehicle carrying Gray made after arresting him.

"If someone harmed Freddie Gray, we're going to have to prosecute that person," he told a news conference. "I'm trying to answer your questions as best we can without jeopardizing our case."

2015-04-24T022326Z_249929865_GF10000070803_RTRMADP_3_USA-POLICE-BALTIMORE A demonstrator holds a sign in front of the Baltimore Police Department Western District station to protest against the death in police custody of Freddie Gray in Baltimore April 23, 2015. Sait Serkan Gurbuz/Reuters

NON-CONFRONTATIONAL POLICING

Unlike in Ferguson, where police quickly turned to paramilitary tactics, donning riot helmets and vests and rolling out armored vehicles to confront crowds of protesters, Baltimore police have taken a less confrontational approach, remaining in patrol uniforms and giving protesters a wide berth.

That low-key response has not been entirely hands-off, though. When a skirmish developed between a handful of officers and demonstrators in west Baltimore on Thursday night, scores of police quickly descended on the scene, cordoning off the area and arresting two people.

2015-04-24T022325Z_1623324304_GF10000070802_RTRMADP_3_USA-POLICE-BALTIMORE Captain Erik Pecha of the Baltimore Police Department chats with young demonstrators in front of the Baltimore Police Department Western District station during a protest against the death in police custody of Freddie Gray in Baltimore April 23, 2015. The U.S. Southern Christian Leadership Conference will independently investigate the death of a black Baltimore man in police custody, with the local head of the civil rights group saying it lacked confidence in a police probe into the death. Sait Serkan Gurbuz/Reuters

Police have also maintained barricades preventing protesters from approaching the domed City Hall, and the station house where Gray was taken has been fenced off by barriers.

Ken Jones, a police spokesman, said Baltimore police had taken lessons from the Ferguson unrest.

"We don't want to come off heavy-handed, yet," Jones said. "I don't think anyone is going to cause a riot."

2015-04-23T221219Z_1923897019_GF10000070711_RTRMADP_3_USA-POLICE-BALTIMORE Demonstrators gather in front of City Hall to protest against the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, in Baltimore April 23, 2015. Sait Serkan /Reuters

Sharon Black, a veteran protest organizer with the leftist People's Power Assembly in Baltimore, said she did not regard the police's posture as low-key, calling the barricades around City Hall and the police station heavy-handed.

"I think the jury's out on that right now," she said.

But Scott Bolden, a Washington lawyer and former New York prosecutor with expertise in cases involving police, said U.S. police generally had seen the value of officers remaining non-confrontational in the face of protests.

Police forces across the United States, he said, have "learned how not to handle these issues, based on what we saw in Ferguson."

Police said Gray fled when officers approached, and they found a switchblade knife in his pocket. He was put in a police van to be taken to a station.

When Gray was taken out, he was unresponsive and taken to a hospital. Police have said Gray was not properly buckled into a seat belt inside the van.

Police have said they will conclude their investigation by May 1 and turn results over to state prosecutors, followed by an independent review. The U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a separate probe.

A wake for Gray is scheduled for Sunday, with his funeral on Monday.