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Victory rally in Baltimore follows charges over Freddie Gray's death

Demonstrators held a victory rally in Baltimore on Saturday. The celebration came a day after state prosecutor Marilyn Mosby charged six officers involved in the death of a black man in police custody.

Hundreds took to Baltimore's streets Saturday as anger over the death of a black man in police custody gave way to cautious hope after the state attorney

announced charges against six officers

. Freddie Gray died April 19 following spinal injuries that occurred during his unlawful arrest a week earlier.

On Saturday, marchers carried homemade signs calling for peace and justice. Some wore T-shirts that read "Black Lives Matter."

Gray's death provoked mass protests in Baltimore

and elsewhere

and became a rallying cry against police brutality and social inequality. For days, the National Guard has patrolled the streets of Baltimore, enforcing a curfew from 10 p.m. (0200 UTC) to 5 a.m. On Saturday, the Maryland National Guard announced on Twitter that it had nearly 3,000 soldiers and airmen ready to help "keep the peace" in the city.

The charges announced Friday contrast sharply with the lack of response to the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police over the past year in Ferguson, New York and other cities where authorities have not prosecuted officers involved in such incidents. In

South Carolina

and

Oklahoma

, white police officers have recently been charged for their roles in the deaths of unarmed black men.

Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby said she had found Gray's arrest illegal after he "suffered a severe and critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet and unrestrained" in a police van. Mosby's handling of the case

drew remarks of approval

from US President Barack Obama

'Important first step'

Officers missed five opportunities to help Gray before he arrived at the police station no longer breathing, Mosby said on Friday. The police had no reason to stop or chase after Gray, she said, adding that they had falsely accused him of possessing an illegal switchblade.

Many have seen Gray's arrest and death as a reflection of a history of violence by Baltimore's police department against black men, and Mosby's announcement of charges prompted celebrations in the streets Friday and Saturday. Robert Shipley, Gray's stepfather, has called the charges "an important first step" and pleaded with protesters to keep their demonstrations peaceful.

Billy Murphy, the family's lawyer, said Baltimore could set an example for other US cities grappling with police brutality. "The people of Philadelphia, New York, Cincinnati and in numerous cities and towns are expressing their outrage that there are too many Freddie Grays," Murphy said. "If Freddie Gray is not to die in vain, we must seize this opportunity to reform police departments throughout this country."

mkg/bk (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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