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Baltimore residents have celebrated the decision by the chief prosecutor to charge one police officer with murder and five others with lesser crimes in the death of a young black man.

Freddie Gray suffered a critical neck injury in the back of a police van, a case that fuelled new anger over police treatment of minorities.

Maryland State Attorney Marilyn Mosby said Gray's arrest was illegal and unjustified, and that his neck was broken because he was handcuffed, shackled and placed head-first into a police van, where his pleas for medical attention were repeatedly ignored as he bounced around inside the small metal box.

The police had no reason to stop or chase after Gray, Mosby said in comments reported by the Associated Press news agency.

We're still in the middle of a process that's ultimately going to speak to whether there's justice or not

Munir Bahar, Co-Founder of 300 Men March Movement

The charges brought jubilation and relief to the streets of Baltimore after nearly two weeks of peaceful protests, punctuated by Monday's rioting.

People danced in the streets, chanting "Freddie" to celebrate the charges against the officers. Some were later arrested by police, however, for refusing to disperse after a curfew went into effect at 10pm for the fourth night.

"What I am happy about is that the community is feeling a sense of calm, or sense of relief," said Munir Bahar, co-Founder of 300 Men March Movement.

"It makes our job easier trying to keep the peace in our community. Trying to prevent the community from burning itself down."

The 300 Men March Movement is comprised of men and women across the entire City of Baltimore actively working to decrease gun violence in urban neighbourhoods.

Bahar was quick to point out that the police officers have only been charged, not convicted.

"We're still in the middle of a process that's ultimately going to speak to whether there's justice or not," said Bahar. "No one can say justice has been served just yet, because these are only charges."

Swift decision

The swift decision by Marilyn Mosby, who has been in the position only since January, to charge the six officers in the death of Gray caught many by surprise in a city hit on Monday night by its worst civil unrest in decades.

Mosby made her announcement hours after the Maryland state medical examiner had ruled the death a homicide and a day after police handed her office the findings of its internal review of Gray's April 12 arrest.

 Baltimore: Anatomy of an American City

The officer who drove the police vehicle in which Gray was taken after his arrest was charged with second-degree murder.

All six officers were under arrest on Friday and have been suspended without pay, while the police officers' union said they were not responsible for Gray's death.

Mosby, who also rejected the union's call for a special prosecutor, earned praise from protesters and Gray's family.

Protests also spread to other major cities in a reprise of demonstrations set off by police killings last year of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, New York and elsewhere.

Gray, 25, sustained his fatal injury while riding in a police van, the prosecutor said, citing the autopsy report. Gray succumbed to his spinal injuries in hospital on April 19.

Source: Agencies