Calls for calm in tense streets of Baltimore

Protesters marching through the streets of Baltimore after a mistrial was declared in the trial of police officer William Porter. It was the first of six trials of police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray.
Protesters marching through the streets of Baltimore after a mistrial was declared in the trial of police officer William Porter. It was the first of six trials of police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Judge declares mistrial in the case of a police officer charged over the death of a black man

BALTIMORE • The mayor of Baltimore urged calm after a mistrial was declared in the case of a police officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a black man whose killing while in custody sparked riots in the US city in April.

Police were out in force in parts of the gritty East Coast city in a bid to avoid a repeat of the riots and looting that erupted in April.

The judge on Wednesday dismissed the jury in the involuntary manslaughter trial of William Porter - the first of six officers to be tried in Gray's death - after 16 hours of deliberations during which the jurors were unable to reach a verdict on any of the charges against the policeman.

Seven jurors were black and five were white. William Porter, who is black, was the first of six police officers to stand trial over Gray's death.

Judge Barry Williams declared a mistrial - something which is rare in US courts - after the jury was hung following two days of deliberations. It is now up to prosecutors to decide whether Porter should be retried with another jury at a later date.

Baltimore law professor Amy Dillard told AFP: "I presume there will be another trial."

Scuffles broke out outside the courthouse after the judge made his announcement, as police helicopters circled overhead. Porter had been charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and assault on Gray, who was picked up after fleeing at the sight of police. He suffered a snapped spine while being transported unrestrained in the rear of a Baltimore police van.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called for calm on Wednesday in Baltimore, a city of 620,000 that has among the highest murder rates in the United States. Television images showed a small but peaceful rolling protest.

"All of us, if we believe in justice, must have respect for the outcome of the judicial process," Ms Rawlings-Blake told reporters, warning that police would not hesitate to clamp down on violent demonstrators. "We are prepared to respond. We will protect our residents. We will protect our neighbourhoods, our businesses, and we will protect the safety of our first responders. We cannot - and will not - be defined by the unrest of last spring."

With the streets of Baltimore - which is about an hour from the capital Washington - tense, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis warned that protests must be kept peaceful. He also said that police were scouring social media for signs of anyone inciting trouble.

Gray's death ramped up already searing discontent in the United States after several similar deaths at the hands of police around the country. Demonstrations broke out in major cities across America after a grand jury declined to indict a white policeman over the fatal shooting in August last year in Ferguson, Missouri, of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black youth.

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2015, with the headline 'Calls for calm in tense streets of Baltimore'. Print Edition | Subscribe