Several hundred vocal demonstrators marched through Manhattan streets Wednesday night to protest the death of a Baltimore man in police custody that has sparked widespread riots and looting across Maryland’s largest city.

Police said dozens were arrested throughout the evening in Manhattan after they resisted officers trying to keep them on sidewalks and off streets clogged with rush-hour traffic.

A demonstration that began peacefully in Union Square at about 6 p.m. with signs and demands for an end to police brutality got increasingly aggressive as the sun set and more people joined the protest.

“Our streets,” the protesters shouted at NYPD officers trying to contain them.
Demonstrators said the death of Freddie Gray, 25, after his arrest by Baltimore police April 19 led them to take to Manhattan streets Wednesday night.

“Black lives matter,” said Frank Billini, 25, of Washington Heights.

Billini chanted the phrase heard last summer after the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer and again in December during protests in Manhattan after a grand jury ruled against indicting an NYPD officer in the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner.

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The demonstrators eventually splintered into several groups last night as they made their way through Manhattan. One group tried to block entrances into the Holland Tunnel. Another blocked the West Side Highway. A third group marched near Madison Square Garden and Times Square.

“All night! All day! We're doing this for Freddie Gray,” demonstrators chanted outside the midtown arena. Others walking south on Seventh Avenue from Times Square yelled “Baltimore, we got your back.”

A police spokesman said they would release the number of people arrested on Thursday.

At least 30 people were seen in handcuffs Wednesday night. Police took a Newsday freelance photographer into custody but he was later released.

The protesters said the Baltimore incident was just another example of the oppressive police environment gripping several parts of the country.

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“I feel like it's important to be out here trying to make a difference,” said Layton Rodwell, 18, a Pace University student originally from Maryland.

The Baltimore riots started Monday and have led to widespread violence and looting.

Some of the Manhattan protesters condemned the violence about 200 miles south that has resulted in a weeklong curfew in Baltimore.

Jamie Rodgers, 26, of Union Square, said it was upsetting to see people take advantage of the protests in Baltimore and hurt small businesses. But people still needed to gather and express their disgust over the recent deaths, he said.

NYPD handing out warnings to protesters gathering in Union Square. Photo Credit: Alison Fox

“There are a few bad apples that overshadow the peaceful protests and the tons of people who want justice for people who were attacked by police,” she said.

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Dominique Danielle Dixon, 22, a student who lives in the East Village, agreed.

“People try to point to property damage and say 'see this is wrong,' they are ignoring all of the people who are out there doing good work, who are cleaning up the streets,” she said. “They are using the property damage to categorize every single person who is marching as barbaric.”

With Robyn Spector