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Baltimore cheers, weeps as six officers face charges

BALTIMORE —- Doni Glover is an in-your-face activist and journalist who’s never at a loss for words. But when he heard Friday that six police officers face charges in the killing of Freddie Gray, he fell silent.

Then he cried.

“I’ve been writing this for 20 years and nobody listened,” he said as his voice went hoarse and he choked back tears.

A radio talk show host and the publisher of BMORENEWS, Glover was referring to his crusade against police brutality and his warnings of long simmering anger among black youths.

They’re listening now.

His tears are just one sentiment among African-Americans as they reacted to how prosecutors announced murder and other criminal charges against six police officers in Gray’s death, ruled a homicide by authorities.

In the protest-torn West Baltimore that Glover champions, demonstrators added a new line Friday to a familiar chant: “No justice, no peace, we want all six police!”

A town dubbed Charm City erupted with a joyous chorus of honking, whistles and cheers immediately after the prosecutor’s announcement.

The exaltation was a dramatic reversal from the rioting earlier this week over Gray’s death in police custody. Gray, a 25-year-old black man, was filmed being dragged into a police van and subsequently died after a severe spinal cord injury.

Activists and protesters applauded and cheered as Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced the charges at an outdoor gathering with journalists and the public.

Motorists honked throughout the streets of Baltimore.

Just moments before the prosecutor’s announcement, the city seemed to hold its breath, wondering whether another round of violence in the street was imminent.

As morning became late afternoon, the city seemed to be satisfied with the prosecutor’s statement.

The West Baltimore neighborhood that became the epicenter of protest this week was, in the words of one resident, “pumped.”

Honking drivers rolled down windows and gave the black power salute — fists raised above the head. People hugged, some danced and others shouted the new chant.

Police will now hesitate before brutalizing young black men, said Ronte Jenkins, 25, who said he was a friend of Gray.

Jenkins said police commonly stop young black men, search their pockets and keep any money they find.

“They ain’t going to be harassing us. They ain’t going to shoot us with Tasers for nothing and taking our money,” Jenkins said.

The criminal charges against six officers vindicated the rage of protesters, others said.

One woman, who sat on white marble steps across from the site where Gray was arrested, said she almost fell out of her living room chair when she heard the announcement on television.

She was impressed by how the past week’s protesters didn’t need a black leader to tell them to hit the streets.

“It seemed like it took them little children to make things happen to make people aware of what the police were doing,” said the 45-year-old woman who identified herself as only “Shorty.”

Many residents are still angry at Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for calling protesters “thugs,” said another woman who said she knew Gray.

“I took it like she called Freddie a thug,” said the 25-year-old woman who identified herself as “Kiona.”

“These people that you called thugs, they’re just misunderstood,” the woman added.

Black political and church leaders expressed relief that Friday’s news didn’t provoke violence.

“We were very nervous Wednesday night and we were afraid it was going to be bad today,” the Rev. Walter Scott Thomas of New Faith Psalmist Baptist Church, one of the city’s largest houses of worship, said Friday.

But Scott was pleased to find Baltimore jubilant over the prosecutor’s announcement.

“Did we expect something this monumental? No,” Scott said. “But are we excited about it? Absolutely.”

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said he was surprised the prosecutors announced charges on Friday, indicating it was a speedy decision.

“It is a new day in our city,” Cummings said. “Let the wheels of justice begin to roll.”

“We did witness history in one respect, and it’s so often these things happen and nothing happens,” Cummings added, referring to the occurrence of police-involved killings with no subsequent prosecutions.

One civil rights attorney was stunned that the prosecutor announced charges so quickly.

“I was surprised at the speed,” attorney A. Dwight Pettit said.

Baltimore City Council member Brandon Scott said protesters will occupy a corner of the city Friday night, but he said all his gatherings are peaceful.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama pledged his administration and the U.S. Justice Department will assist Baltimore officials in their investigation. He also expressed approval with Friday’s “thoughtful, constructive, peaceful protests.”

“It’s absolutely vital that the truth comes out on what happened to Mr. Freddie Gray,” Obama told reporters. “I can tell you that justice needs to be served. All the evidence needs to be presented. Those individuals charged are also entitled to due process and the rule of law.

“This administration will help local officials get to the bottom of exactly what happened,” the president added.

Back in Baltimore, one of the city’s flashpoints for earlier protests was North and Pennsylvania avenues, and on Friday, residents lined the side of the street to cheer honking cars. The corner is home to a CVS store that was torched during rioting earlier this week.

On Friday, peace prevailed between police and citizens.

In fact, a dancing man helped police officers keep the corner a functioning intersection and helped direct traffic.

Police officers lingered in the background and allowed residents to celebrate.

The city’s curfew will remain in effect this weekend, and the intersection will have to be vacated by 10 p.m.

As celebratory as Baltimore largely was on Friday, some protesters acknowledged that the black community continues to face broader and deeper issues, including the ongoing national controversies over police-involved killings of black suspects.

“Take a look around,” one man in an impoverished black neighborhood said. “Would you be satisfied with this if this was your community?”

Cummings acknowledged such issues in his public remarks in Baltimore, his hometown and current city of residence.

“I don’t want anybody to be confused that the issue of police and community is one part of a broader set of issues,” Cummings said. “Our children need to be properly educated. They need to be trained so that they can get jobs and be functional.”

Outspoken activist Glover and others expressed a mixture of relief, pragmatism and wariness about what’s ahead.

Glover said the protests had forced city leaders’ hands.

“They had no choice,” he said about the charges against the police officers. “The city was like a barrel of gasoline, and Freddie Gray was like a match that was directly over that barrel of gasoline.”

Glover has long chronicled police brutality claims and the simmering anger of black youth in West Baltimore, where Gray lived. But no one listened, he said, until the media descended on Baltimore to cover the unrest.

“Thank God for the national news media,” he said.

Yet the rejoicing was tempered in other quarters by people who say the charges were just a start.

Donna Brown is a member of one of the black churches in Baltimore that urged calm in the community after Gray’s death.

“I’m elated and overwhelmed, but I don’t think it’s an ultimate win,” said Brown, a member of Empowerment Temple AME Church. “This is not victory. It’s not justice yet.”

The ultimate goal is not only justice for Gray, but also police reform, she said.

“This is the beginning. We need police accountability. There are hundreds of stories behind this. There are hundreds of men in prison who were falsely charged and falsely convicted,” she said.

Will Funq, president of a predominantly black motorcycle club, was also cautiously optimistic. His club rushed to the scene of the riots early in the week to restrain looters.

“It sends a message to a lot of these officers who have been taught by their higher-ups on how to police the wrong way, so it’s definitely a good starting point,” he said. “Charges are one thing, but making them stick is another.”

Throughout the week, people had openly compared Baltimore to Ferguson, Missouri, a city rocked by civil unrest after a black man was killed by a white police officer. But Glover said the black protesters and political leadership in Baltimore shot down that comparison on Friday.

“Baltimore is not Ferguson,” Glover said. “The African-American in Baltimore is one of the most resilient human beings in the world. There is something about this place.”

Such resiliency of Baltimore will be tested when the police officers charged in Gray’s death go to trial. Glover said their trial — like Gray’s death — will be bigger than any one individual.

“Racism is on trial in Baltimore,” he said. “White supremacy is on trial.”

CNN’s John Blake wrote and reported from Baltimore and Michael Martinez wrote and reported from Los Angeles. CNN’s Brian Todd contributed to this report.