Update: The week's protests got more intense on Saturday night when marchers got into physical altercations with police, damaged several cars and threw objects at officers.
Freddie Gray's name has been added to the disturbing list of black men who've died recently at the hands of police officers. But unlike Michael Brown or Walter Scott or 12-year-old Tamir Rice, Gray was not killed after getting shot by an officer, but while in custody.
Gray, 25, died in Baltimore on Sunday, one week after he was chased and restrained by police officers. According to reports, he suffered a spinal injury during his arrest and later died in police custody of a severed spinal cord.
You Won't Believe How This Police Official Referred To Protesters
Marchers have been filling the streets all week in anger over Gray's death, but on Wednesday the tension was upped a notch after the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 issued a statement that antagonized protesters and some observers.
"While we appreciate the right of our citizens to protest and applaud the fact that, to date, the protests have been peaceful, we are very concerned about the rhetoric of the protests," read the statement, according to CNN. "In fact, the images seen on television look and sound much like a lynch mob in that they are calling for the immediate imprisonment of these officers without them ever receiving the due process that is the constitutional right of every citizen, including law enforcement officers."
That phrase, "lynch mob," set off a round of heated responses from observers who took issue with the use of an offensive reference tied to a history of violence against African-Americans dating back to the Civil War.
What Do We Know About Gray's Death?
Gray was reportedly running from police when one of the Baltimore PD officers took him into custody in an area known for drug activity. Police said they spotted a switchblade in the Gray's pocket; the family's lawyer, William Murphy described the blade as a "pocketknife of legal size" in court documents.
While statements from five of the six arresting officers -- who've been suspended with pay in the incident -- noted that Gray ran "unprovoked upon noticing police presence," lawyer Murphy said they never saw the knife before taking Gray into custody. Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said Gray, who is black, "gave up without the use of force."
Rodriguez added that Gray, a reported asthmatic who did not have an inhaler on him at the time, was loaded into the police van without incident and taken to the police station. The arrest was caught on video by a bystander and witnesses described the officers either standing around or not helping Gray up. The man who claims he took the video said Gray was dragged into the van as officers were, "sitting on his back, and having his leg twisted," the New York Times reported.
According to the Baltimore Sun Gray's family claims he suffered three fractured vertebrae in his neck and had his larynx crushed; Murphy added that Gray's spinal cord was 80 percent severed.
Deputy Commissioner Rodriguez noted that Gray was upset but could talk when he went into the police van and when he was removed he "could not talk and he could not breathe." So far police said here is no evidence of excessive force. On Wednesday, officials issued a statement saying that the city "has a policy requiring all prisoners to be properly seat belted during transport."
Demonstrations Increase and Spread
Baltimore has struggled with tension between police and the African-American community since at least 2005, the Times reported. It was beginning that year that a practice known as "zero-tolerance policing" resulted in more than 100,000 arrests in the black community in the city of 640,000.
At least three different protests were scheduled in the city on Thursday (Apr. 23), with Gov. Larry Hogan authorizing Maryland State Police to help city officers work crowd control. Some of the previous gatherings reportedly grew so large that they were disrupting traffic and blocking streets. A prayer vigil was planned for 7 p.m. on Thursday night, just blocks away from where Gray was arrested.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department announced that it was opening a criminal investigation into the case that would include the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office.
The week's peaceful demonstrations took a turn when 12 people were arrested on Saturday night after some protesters reportedly smashed store windows and damaged several cars, got into shoving matches with police and threw objects at the officers, according to CNN.