Many paraded through riot-scarred neighborhoods and chanted Freddie Gray’s name as security forces nervously looked on.
“Baltimore people, we did it!” shouted 18-year-old John Johnson. “Justice needs to be served!”
Cars streamed down West North Avenue in a cacophony of horns, as a man wearing a t-shirt that read “I Bleed Baltimore” thrust his fists into the air and cheered.
The community has been on edge since this week’s violent riots left several buildings in flames, stores looted, more than a dozen police officers injured and dozens of people arrested.
But residents poured onto the streets to vent their relief at the beginning of a judicial process that could see accountability for the death of Gray, 25, in police custody.
“This is long overdue,” Dexter Dillard, 47, told AFP at the corner of West North and Pennsylvania avenues, where a large pharmacy was looted and burned Monday in the worst rioting in Baltimore since the late 1960s.
“This hasn’t just started, it’s been going on for years,” he said of alleged police brutality against black men in the city.
Like many here, Dillard praised the authority figure of the moment, Maryland state attorney Marilyn Mosby, who stunned many by announcing charges as serious as second-degree murder against six officers involved in Gray’s arrest and the murky incidents which led to his death.
“We have a state attorney now who is not taking no BS, and she brought her business. So Mosby for mayor!” Dillard yelled.
“This right now is celebration time,” added 39-year-old Chris Taylor, who said he was ecstatic that authorities finally recognized the city had a police problem.
“I’ve been through so much with this city… And they’ve treated us so crazy, like we ain’t nothing.”
– ‘When you get us, don’t kill us’ –
He admitted that many in the community are on the wrong side of the law, either dealing drugs, committing theft or other crimes.
“But when you get us, don’t kill us. That’s all we’re saying,” said Taylor.
“If they had come with another verdict, or said ‘We didn’t do it, we ain’t responsible,’ it would have been something else. But right now we’re celebrating.”
But amid the smiles, tears and hugs, an undercurrent of tension continued to course through the streets as community members saw the charges as validation of their claims of systemic police brutality in one of America’s poorest big cities.
“Just as they kill one, don’t mean they done!” chanted one man as he jogged down the sidewalk.
“Justice for my man Freddie Gray,” another shouted.
A teenager stood in the street near the burned-out pharmacy and observed the revelry.
“They say everybody is born and dies for a reason. And I guess Freddie Gray died so all this can happen,” he told AFP.
But, as a line of police moved across the street in front of him, he turned visibly agitated, raised his middle finger to the officers and shouted obscenities.
The man, who declined to be identified, said many in the community were disappointed that the charges were not more severe.
“I think manslaughter ain’t shit. First degree murder is the charge we were looking for.”
Capricia Howard, 23, spoke of her mixed emotions at Mosby’s stunning announcement.
“I feel relieved because it was time, you know,” she said. “I just want it to be known that nobody is above the law — officers, sheriffs, whoever.
“Just because you have a badge does not give you a right to take another man’s life. We live in this community, and we deserve our justice.”
“I’m raising a young black man that looks like Freddie Gray. I was prepared to leave the state because I don’t want to raise my son and 10 years later a cowboy — I’m sorry, a cop — kills him, and gets away with it.”-AFP