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Baltimore devolves into chaos, violence, looting

After two weeks of tension over the death of Freddie Gray, Baltimore devolved into chaos Monday.

Roaming gangs clashed with police in the streets, seriously injuring officers, tearing open businesses and looting their stocks. Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and called up the National Guard, and state police requested as many as 5,000 reinforcements from neighboring states.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake instituted a weeklong citywide curfew for all residents from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., starting Tuesday, as rioters damaged neighborhood after neighborhood into Monday night.

Rawlings-Blake called those involved “thugs who only want to incite violence and destroy our city,” joining a chorus of other officials and residents — some of whom fought off rioters to defend their homes and businesses.

“Too many people have spent generations building up this city for it to be destroyed by thugs who, in a very senseless way, are trying to tear down what so many have fought for, tearing down businesses, tearing down or destroying property,” Rawlings-Blake said. “It’s idiotic to think that by destroying your city, you’re going to make life better for anybody.”

William M. Pallozzi, superintendent of the state police, said 1,500 police were in Baltimore on Monday night. In addition to police from out of state, as many as 5,000 National Guard soldiers could be deployed. Ministers also took to the streets in an effort to quell the violence, trying to intervene and praying for peace.

The events stood in stark contrast to earlier, more peaceful protests in the city following the in-custody death last week of Gray. The 25-year-old Baltimore resident died from spinal cord and other injuries sustained while in police custody. The case is still under investigation, and circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear.

The violence began hours after Gray’s funeral, despite standing pleas from his family for peaceful protests and a suspension of demonstrations Monday in deference to mourners.

“This is not what my family asked for. This is not justice. This is just people finding a way to steal stuff,” said Carron Morgan, an 18-year-old cousin of Gray. He attended earlier protests, often intervening in tense situations between police and protesters.

Morgan said Gray’s family and neighbors were not rioting. Instead, he said, “we’re going to be out tomorrow cleaning up, for sure.”

The riots spread fear through parts of the city, forcing cancellation of the Baltimore Orioles’ scheduled home game and prompting the closure of city public schools Tuesday.

Late Monday, a massive fire involving a building under construction erupted in East Baltimore, which neighbors believe was linked to the violence. Terrance Taylor, 17, said he was “devastated” by the destruction.

“We are trying to build up this community,” he said, noting the neighborhood is already full of vacant buildings. “It’s a waste of millions of dollars. I don’t see how this is making a statement at all.”

The Fire Department had not been able to determine the cause of the blaze.

President Barack Obama called Rawlings-Blake and Hogan about efforts to restore peace, while newly sworn-in Attorney General Loretta Lynch condemned the “senseless acts of violence” for causing “a shattering of the peace in the city of Baltimore.”

The violence began around 3 p.m. at Mondawmin Mall as schools let out, with rock-throwing kids confronting shield-carrying police officers. Things rapidly deteriorated as police retreated to a perimeter position, vehicles and buildings were burned and openly defiant crowds began smashing into and looting local businesses.

Some casually loaded vehicles full of merchandise from neighborhood stores as police responded to hot spots in other areas.

At least 15 police officers were injured — two hospitalized — in violent clashes, with one police spokesman calling those responsible “outrageous criminals.

Capt. Eric Kowalczyk, the spokesman, simmered with frustration as he recounted officers at one point facing a hail of rocks as they sought to bring the situation under control. “A group of outrageous criminals attacked our officers,” Kowalczyk said.

As of Monday evening, police had made 27 arrests.

Councilman Brandon Scott called on adults in the city to bring Baltimore back to order, to help it avoid a repeat of the riots that left Baltimore burning after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968.

“I’m pissed off. This is the city that I love. We can cannot stand idle and let cowards ruin our city. If you are an adult and you are out there participating in this, you are ruining the future for these young people,” Scott said. “We cannot let this be a repeat of 1968. The neighborhood they’re in right now is still burned down from 1968.”

Scenes reminiscent of major riots in large American cities decades ago — including in Baltimore — as well as violent confrontations between police and protesters more recently in Ferguson, Mo., were captured by helicopter news crews and broadcast across the world.

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said the rioters were only hurting their own city.

“I am asking all of you out there looting to stop it. Please stop it. It’s hurting the city of Baltimore in more ways than one,” Young said. “When you loot the CVS store, that means that your relatives who work in those stores can’t go to work, so they can’t get paid. There’s a ripple effect. This has gone from being a protest to rioting. This is not the protesters. These are people rioting and destroying property and looting. We have to put an end to it.”

Longtime Baltimore leader Kweisi Mfume called the events a “growing pain” in a process toward “real structural change” in the Police Department, which has been criticized by protesters for a history of brutality against citizens.

The former congressman and NAACP leader said he and other men were walking the streets Monday night trying to connect with the young people causing trouble.

“There are a number of neighborhoods where men like myself — older, mature men — are in the streets, meeting with these young men, talking to them, telling them there is a better way, a different way,” Mfume said.

More than 1,000 protesters had gathered Saturday in the West Baltimore neighborhood where Gray was first arrested before they marched downtown. Those protests were largely peaceful, though the day was tarnished by isolated vandalism and looting, and a late-night clash between police and protesters.

Monday’s violent acts followed the distribution of a flier on social media calling for high schoolers to “purge,” a reference to a movie in which all laws are suspended for a day.

Police also announced that officers had received a “credible threat” that multiple gangs in the city had formed a partnership to target police.

It was unclear how many people were involved in the riots, which popped up in spurts.

Dozens of people broke into Mondawmin Mall, some arriving in vehicles and driving off with armfuls of clothing and boxes of store goods.

Portions of the Metro system were shut down, and streets were closed as police set up perimeters around neighborhoods.

Many major employers and downtown attractions closed early Monday afternoon, and some planned to stay closed Tuesday, including T. Rowe Price’s office tower on Pratt Street. Other employers decided to wait to see what morning would bring before deciding whether to open.

A CVS on Pennsylvania Avenue was looted and burned by a fire that billowed thick smoke into the air. A Save-a-Lot in Bolton Hill was vandalized, and residents in the neighborhood were left to fend for themselves as police diverted resources to Mondawmin.

Looting spread along Howard and Centre streets as afternoon turned to evening. Another group of people destroyed property around North and Fulton avenues, police said, and a car was set on fire at North Avenue and Pulaski Street.

About five stores in the 600 block of Eutaw Street had broken windows and were looted after rioters came through about 4 p.m., witnesses there said.

Kowalczyk said crowds “violently and without provocation” began attacking officers early in the day, and there were few signs of the violence ebbing as the evening wore on.

Kowalczyk said the department “will find the people that are responsible and we will put them in jail,” calling them “lawless individuals with no regard for the safety” of neighborhood residents and officers.

Hogan’s emergency order does not affect citizens’ rights but is required to activate the guard and authorize federal assistance, spokeswoman Erin Montgomery said.

The governor also promised repercussions for those responsible for the violence and looting. “There is a significant difference between protesting and violence, and those committing these acts will be prosecuted under the fullest extent of the law,” Hogan said.

 

Source: Baltimore Sun

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