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'Sliver Of Hope' In Freddie Gray Case, Former Baltimore Police Chief Says

Protesters rally after a march for Freddie Gray that ended in front of the Baltimore Police Department's Western District police station Tuesday. Gray, 25, died from spinal injuries on April 19, one week after being arrested.

"Enough is enough!" hundreds of people chanted over and over in Baltimore last night, at a rally for Freddie Gray, a young black man who died in police custody earlier this month. A federal civil rights inquiry was launched Tuesday.

"We've had some other problems with African-Americans dying in police custody and at the hands of police officers here in Baltimore city," says Leonard Hamm, a former commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department who served from 2004-2007.

Talking with NPR's David Greene, Hamm cites a "disconnect" between the police and the community. And he said that the city has to work to close that gap.

"This is possibly the spark that's going to ignite change, real change, in this city, and with the Baltimore Police Department," Hamm says.

He says that for that to happen, the city's investigation must be transparent – and if wrongdoing is found, "the police department has to stand up to the community and say, look, we messed up, we made a mistake."

Hamm says the ethnic diversity in Baltimore's government and other key roles provides "a sliver of hope" to the public.

Gray died Sunday of what a medical examiner says was a spinal cord injury. Other facts in the case have been hard to determine — but the focus has rested on the time Gray spent in a police van after he was arrested. Gray had run from police. But within an hour, he was taken to a hospital, and one week later, he was dead.

Six Baltimore police officers have been suspended pending as local and federal investigators look into Gray's death.

"The police department is focusing on that van ride — but at this point they don't know exactly what happened," Scott Calvert, who is covering the story in Baltimore for The Wall Street Journal, tells David.

In its recent session, Maryland's legislature considered several bills that were meant to bring greater police accountability — but as member station WYPR in Baltimore reports, all of the measures died at the committee stage.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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