US & Canada

Freddie Gray: Is Baltimore starting to heal?

Baltimore children play with National Gaurdsmen
Image caption A sign of healing: Baltimore children play with National Guardsmen

Most people who live in Baltimore, a city of 622,000, are black. Half of the police force is black - and so is the mayor, police chief and many other officials.

But that didn't insulate the city from tensions that have erupted in places like Ferguson, Missouri, where the majority black population felt mistreated by the white leadership.

But things still turned violent here.

Riots broke out on Monday after the funeral of Freddie Gray, who suffered a spinal cord injury and died while being held by the police.

On Friday, the state's attorney in Baltimore, Marilyn Mosby, 35, who is African-American, held a press conference about his death - and accountability for the police officers.

"To the youth of this city, I will seek justice on your behalf," she said. "This is your moment."

'Boardroom liberalism'

Six police officers have been charged in the death of Freddie Gray.

Many of those who support the police officers in Baltimore are outraged.

Gene Ryan, the president of a police union, says the officers are not responsible for his death. In addition, he says, Ms Mosby has personal ties with attorney William Murphy, who represents the Gray family.

US President Barack Obama has also spoken about the protests and Ms Mosby's findings.

He is known for "boardroom liberalism", as some critics have put it.

Once hailed as a leader who would change race relations in America, he has at times lagged behind others in his views of how things might improve.

Earlier this week, he talked about "thugs" who wreaked havoc. On Friday, he told Americans to let justice take its course.

Those who are charged, he said, are "entitled to due process and rule of law". His remarks are judicious - and calm.

'On right road'

Yet here in Baltimore change in the way racial issues are being handled is under way - at a lightning-quick pace.

Image caption Shawntrice Mack says "justice has been served"

For the first time since 1968, the year that Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, National Guard troops were deployed. That was earlier this week.

On Friday, the city - or at least a section of the city, West North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue, an area that had been torched - was starting to heal.

The National Guard troops - the same men who were sent here to stop would-be rioters - played with children in front of a burned-out CVS.

Someone has drawn a peace sign in white and pink chalk on its brick wall. Plywood has been bolted over the smashed-up doors. A Harriet Tubman poster, commemorating a woman who once helped free slaves, is hung on the wood, fastened with gaffer tape.

Shawntrice Mack, 24, a third-year student at Coppin State, a historically black university in Baltimore, says she used to come here regularly "to get vitamins and birth control".

She watches a group of children, including her one-year-old son Kyrin Shipman, play with the National Guard troops.

A police helicopter circles low in the air.

"Look - there it goes," one of the guardsman, Zahery Elliot, a 20-year-old from Cumberland, Maryland, tells the children. He points up at the sky.

Ms Mack gestures towards him and the other troops near the CVS.

"People look at them like they're police officers," she says. "They're still human - and not every cop is bad."

After she heard the news about charges being filed, she says, she felt relief.

"Justice has been served," she says. "We're only getting started. But we're on the right road."

The protestors, she says, are happy. "All they wanted is for peace to be done."

Moment of pride

A few steps away Mae McKinney, a woman dressed in purple pants and stud earrings, was waving an American flag - one she'd pulled out of her basement earlier in the day.

Image caption Mae McKinney (centre) says Baltimore can serve as a model for other investigations into police abuses

"It's history that's being made today," says Ms McKinney, adding that she sneaked out of work so she could come to the street party.

"Baltimore really came through today. It was a negative turned into a positive."

In this way, she says, Baltimore can serve as a model for other investigations into police abuses.

"We've been telling these stories forever - usually it goes away. You have your Trayvon Martins. You have your Michael Browns," she says, referring to high-profile cases in which young black men have been shot and killed.

She says that news about these cases flares up - and then fades. "Everything goes away," she says. "Today it didn't."

"We have peace. That's what we wanted," Ms McKinney adds.

For her and others in west Baltimore it's a moment of pride - for her nation and her city. She, like the others around her, is hoping the mood will last.