National Guard activated as violence shakes Baltimore
Rioting erupts after funeral; National Guard activated; curfew imposed
BALTIMORE — Maryland’s governor activated the National Guard on Monday and the city of Baltimore announced a curfew for all residents as a turbulent day that began with the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, the nation’s latest symbol of police brutality, ended with rioting by rock-throwing youths, arson, looting, and at least 15 police officers injured.
The violence that shook the city broke out in the late afternoon in the Mondawmin neighborhood of Northwest Baltimore, where Gray’s funeral had taken place. Angry residents threw bottles, rocks, and chunks of concrete at officers who lined up in riot gear with shields deployed. Cars were set on fire, store windows were shattered, a CVS drugstore was looted, and the cafe inside a century-old Italian deli was destroyed.
By nighttime, the chaos seemed to be competing with a push for calm. Looters pulled junk food from convenience stores within a few blocks of police in riot gear and cars that had been set ablaze. At the same time, young men in black T-shirts from a local antiviolence group urged their neighbors to go back inside. A large fire burned in east Baltimore, consuming a partly built development project of the Southern Baptist Church that was to include housing for the elderly. Authorities did not say immediately if the fire and earlier violence were connected.
Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency, and the Maryland State Police, who took command of the response, said they would ask for 5,000 law enforcement officials from the mid-Atlantic region to help quell the violence. Some National Guard units were to arrive Monday night, with others deploying on Tuesday in armored Humvees.
In Washington, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, on her first day on the job, briefed President Obama, who in turn called Hogan. The governor said Obama urged him to have law enforcement officers exercise restraint, and he assured the president they would. “But,” Hogan added, “I assured him we weren’t going to stand by and allow our city of Baltimore to be taken over by thugs.”
City officials said schools would be closed Tuesday for the safety of children. At City Hall, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, sounding exhausted and exasperated after days of appealing for calm, announced that a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew would be imposed for a week beginning Tuesday. The city already has a curfew for juveniles under age 17.
“Too many people have spent generations building up this city for it to be destroyed by thugs,” she said. “I’m at a loss for words. It is idiotic to think that by destroying your city that you’re going to make life better for anybody.” The police said that at least 27 people had been arrested.
The police said early in the day that they had received a “credible threat” that members of various gangs had “entered into a partnership to ‘take out’ law enforcement officers.” But officers kept a low profile in the neighborhood during the Gray funeral. The police also said that a flier circulated on social media called for a period of violence Monday afternoon to begin at the Mondawmin Mall and move toward City Hall downtown.
Warned by the police of possible violence, the University of Maryland campus in downtown Baltimore closed early, as did the mall. The Baltimore Orioles postponed their home game against the Chicago White Sox. The Baltimore police vowed the authorities would take “appropriate measures” to keep officers and the neighborhood safe. Fifteen police officers were injured, some with broken bones, and one was unresponsive, according to the department.
Pastor Jamal Bryant, who delivered Gray’s eulogy, came back to the neighborhood after the burial Monday afternoon to appeal for calm. He said he would send teams of men from his church, the Empowerment Temple, to help keep the peace.
“This is not what the family asked for, today of all days,” Bryant said. “For us to come out of the burial and walk into this is absolutely inexcusable.” He said he was “asking every young person to go back home,” adding, “it’s frustration, anger and it’s disrespect for the family.”
Gray’s death on April 19, a week after sustaining a spinal cord injury while in police custody, has opened a deep wound in this majority-black city, where Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts — both of whom are black — have struggled to reform a police department that has a history of aggressive, sometimes brutal, treatment of black men.
Gray was chased and restrained by police on bicycles at the Gilmor Homes on the morning of April 12; a cellphone video of his arrest showed him being dragged into a police transport van, seemingly limp and screaming in pain. The police have acknowledged that he should have received medical treatment immediately at the scene of the arrest and have also said that he rode in the van unbuckled.
After his arrival at the police station, medics rushed him to the hospital, where he slipped into a coma and died. His family has said that 80 percent of his spinal cord was severed, and his larynx was crushed. The death spawned a week of protests that had been largely peaceful until Saturday night, when demonstrators scuffled with officers in riot gear outside Camden Yards, the baseball park. Authorities attributed the scattered violence that night to outsiders who, Rawlings-Blake said, “were inciting,” with “ ‘Go out there and shut this city down’ kind of messaging.”
But the violence Monday was much more devastating and profound, a blow for a city whose leaders had been hoping Gray’s funeral would show the nation its more peaceful side. At the New Shiloh Baptist Church, Gray lay in an open white coffin, in a white shirt and tie, with a pillow bearing a picture of him in a red T-shirt, against a backdrop of a blue sky and doves, with the message “Peace y’all.”
But as the day went on, the mood changed. The violence appears to have begun inside the Mondawmin Mall. Erica Ellis, 23, who works in a Game Stop store there, said the mall was shut down at 2 p.m., not long after Gray’s funeral cortège left for his burial.
She said she went outside and saw a line of police officers and hundreds of young people who started throwing rocks and bricks. But police did not respond immediately, she said. “The police officers were trying as hard as they can not to hurt the people’s children,” she said.
At the corner of North Fulton and West North avenues, looters could be seen breaking into stores and walking out with cases of food and water while hundreds of police officers in riot gear gathered about four blocks away.
When a pair of police cruisers tried to enter the area, young men threw bottles. Several of the men wore surgical masks. Some carried baseball bats, others carried pipes. While several people held signs that read “Stop the war,” protesting peacefully, the rising chaos surrounded them: a broken-down BMW sat empty in the middle of the street, shards of glass from convenience store windows lay on the pavement, and a young man carrying bolt cutters walked by.
Residents looked on aghast. Not far from the Gilmor Homes, Chris Malloy said he was angry at the police and the looters — all at once.
“All they had to do was march, but they did this,” he said, sounding disgusted, as the CVS store burned nearby. “You can take stuff out of the store, but why do you have to burn it down?”