Demonstrators turned out in the hundreds in Philadelphia Thursday to show support for their southern neighbors in Baltimore, who are protesting the recent death of Freddie Gray. While the rally was initially described as peaceful and well-organized, tensions began mounting as protesters moved towards Interstate 95 and were met with force by police.
Unconfirmed claims of arrests have been made, but there has been no official report from Philadelphia authorities. NBC 10 reporter George Spencer called the situation “very fluid” and noted that “several [police officers] were trampled moments ago by crowd trying for highway.” Police used their batons to keep protesters away from their line, and one woman interviewed by CNN in the crowd said police sprayed mace at protesters. The crowd broke through the police line at around 8:05 p.m. EDT and continued marching on the Vine Street Expressway, otherwise known as Interstate 676, according to WCAU’s Randy Gyllenhaal.
The #PhillyIsBaltimore protestors have gotten on to the Vine Street Expressway.
â€” Randy Gyllenhaal (@RandyGyllenhaal) May 1, 2015
â€” BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) April 30, 2015
â€” FOX's Dave Kinchen (@DKinchenFOX29) May 1, 2015
â€” Joshua Scott Albert (@jpegjoshua) May 1, 2015
Still going, right through Chinatown #PhillyisBaltimore
â€” Jen Murray (@thahbullet) May 1, 2015
There were reports of confusion and fights breaking out among protesters, who appeared to be arguing about what route to take and how to confront police. Demonstrators gathered outside the Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Prisons, about two blocks away from Interstate 95 and the Delaware River, Philadelphia Daily News columnist Helen Ubiñas said. Protesters chanted “No justice, no peace,” “You are not alone,” and “We won’t move.”
Ubiñas noted that the mood shifed from celebratory to tense and back again several times. Authorities closed down the city's courts, and some schools let students go home early out of caution. Protesters' complaints were not limited to Gray's death. Some were seen holding signs advocating for better healthcare for prisoners outside the Federal Bureau of Prisons building, and others voiced their own gripes about Philadelphia's social ills.
â€” Helen Ubiñas (@NotesFromHeL) May 1, 2015
Many worried the Philadelphia demonstrations would turn violent like those in Baltimore Monday night after Gray’s funeral. Gray, 25, suffered a fatal spinal injury at some point during his 45 minutes in police custody on April 12, which prompted accusations that he was intentionally injured or neglected by police. One week later he was dead. Police admitted that the officers caring for Gray refused his requests for medical care and called paramedics only when he lost consciousness at a police station.
On Monday, the crowds in Baltimore turned violent and began looting stores, burning cars and attacking police. The police were generally restrained in their response to the unrest, opting to keep their distance rather than move toward unruly crowds, a strategy for which authorities were criticized. Demonstrations in Baltimore in the days since then have ended without serious incident, but tensions remain high between residents and law officers. Protesters gathered again in Baltimore Thursday, but a 10 p.m. curfew remained in place.