Huge protests on US East Coast over police 'injustices'

Baltimore (AFP) - Thousands demonstrated in US East Coast cities demanding equal treatment for all by police, after a young African American died of injuries sustained in custody in Baltimore.

The biggest show of people power was in Baltimore itself -- epicenter of the latest racially tinged unrest to convulse the United States -- where several thousand mostly young demonstrators paralyzed city blocks in a major rally through downtown to City Hall.

The streets of Baltimore seemed calm on the second night of a citywide curfew.

Thousands more protested in New York, the capital Washington and Boston in solidarity, as simmering anger over alleged police brutality against black people and discrimination again bubbled to the surface.

The protests were overwhelmingly peaceful and good-natured, although New York police said they had arrested more than 60 demonstrators. Emotions were running high, and scuffles broke out.

What appears to be a growing movement for change was focused on Baltimore, where a rally that started at the main train station included black and white demonstrators, some of them linking arms and chanting: "No justice, no peace! No racists, no peace!"

Many in the march were high school or college students.

"We're protesting the ongoing injustices that police have perpetrated on black men particularly. Police are trigger-happy and we need to stop that," Jonathan Brown, 19, a student at Johns Hopkins University, told AFP.

Some in the huge crowd held placards, one reading, "Killer cops deserve cell blocks."

The 2,000 National Guard personnel who have flooded Baltimore this week kept a low profile and only small knots of demonstrators remained on the streets when a curfew swept into effect for a second night from 10:00 pm (0200 GMT Thursday) to 5:00 am.

Of the more than 200 people arrested in Monday's riots, police were forced to let half of them go Wednesday, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Amid the chaos of the unrest, it is hard now to determine which officer arrested what suspect. And a specially extended deadline for holding people without charge was expiring, so people had to be let go, Captain Eric Kowalczyk said, according to the Sun.

- 'Very encouraged' -

The calm in Baltimore, for the second night running, was a far cry from the violence and looting which flared there following the funeral of Freddie Gray, 25, on Monday.

The circumstances surrounding Gray's death are unclear, but six officers have been suspended with pay.

The results of an investigation into his death are to be handed over Friday to prosecutors, but not made public right away, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said.

She said many in the community had been under the mistaken belief the report would be made public Friday, stoking fears of another outburst of violence.

Adding to the confusion, The Washington Post, citing a police document, said a prisoner sharing a police transport van with Gray told investigators that he could hear Gray "banging against the walls" of the vehicle and believed that he "was intentionally trying to injure himself."

The prisoner, who is in jail, was separated from Gray by a metal partition and could not see him, the report said.

Gray died seven days after his arrest with 80 percent of his spine severed at the neck, lawyers for his family say, portraying him as just the latest young African American to die at the hands of the police.

In August, a white policeman shot dead a black teenager in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, triggering demonstrations in major US cities from Los Angeles to New York that were repeated when a grand jury declined to indict the officer.

Maryland State Governor Larry Hogan said he had been "very encouraged" by the prior 24 hours and said a semblance of normality was returning to Baltimore, a gritty city of 620,000 less than an hour's drive from Washington.

But he cautioned: "We are not out of the woods yet."

- New York arrests -

In New York City, protesters gathered at Union Square, in Lower Manhattan, for a rally dubbed on a Facebook page, "NYC Rise up and Shut it down with Baltimore."

The large march initially met no resistance from police, but that swiftly changed as officers -- who deployed in significant numbers -- moved in and made arrests.

Police told AFP more than 60 people were arrested.

In Washington, there was a festive atmosphere as a well-organized march that peaked at about 1,000 ended at the White House, where protesters chanted and held signs reading, "Stop racist police terror."

Among the many startling images to emerge from Baltimore was that of an infuriated mother hitting her teenage son repeatedly for joining the demonstrations on Monday and dragging him away.

"I just lost it," said Toya Graham, a single mother of six, whose actions have been widely praised.

"I was shocked, I was angry, because you never want to see your child out there doing that," she added, speaking to CBS News.