Baltimore Protests Turn Violent after Freddie Gray Funeral
Violence erupted in Baltimore on Monday afternoon following the funeral of Freddie Gray, who suffered a broken spine and later died after being arrested by police on April 12.
City officials said seven police officers were wounded in riots that began at Mondawmin Mall and were spreading toward downtown, the Baltimore Sun reports.
Thousands of demonstrators, some from as far afield as New York and even Ferguson, Missouri, took part in protests over the weekend. While mostly peaceful, some protesters broke windows, blocked intersections and clashed with police. Some people pelted officers with objects including rocks and bottles. WBAL reported dozens of people were arrested. At Camden Yards, fans present for Saturday night’s baseball game between the Baltimore Orioles and visiting Boston Red Sox were instructed to remain in the stadium following the game due to nearby unrest.
Things got much uglier on Monday following Gray’s funeral at New Shiloh Baptist Church, which was attended by thousands of mourners including Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, who called Gray a victim of inequality and lamented that many black Americans “feel threatened” by police violence and warned that “all of our sons are at risk.”
But many of the sons—and daughters—of poorer, blacker Baltimore were busy placing themselves at risk of police repercussions by violently rampaging through the city’s streets after the funeral, pelting police officers and vehicles with rocks, bricks and bottles. Police responded by firing less-lethal projectiles and chemical agents at the demonstrators. Some officers also retrieved objects thrown by protesters and threw them back at their assailants. Baltimore Police Department spokesman Captain Eric Kowalczyk told reporters seven officers were injured, with one officer described as unresponsive and others suffering broken bones.
Demonstrators were not the only ones seen engaging in acts of violence over the past several days. J.M. Giordano, the 41-year-old photo editor of the Baltimore City Paper, was brutally beaten by officers while covering protests on Saturday night. The attack was recorded by City Paper managing editor Baynard Woods, who can be heard yelling to police, “he’s a photographer, he’s press” to no avail.
Monday’s unrest was sparked by social media posts widely circulated among city school students announcing a “purge” to begin at 3:00 p.m., a reference to the horror film franchise in which all laws are suspended for one day per year and all crime, including murder, is legal. Police in riot gear chased and clashed with protesters outside the Mondawmin Mall, and other local businesses were looted by crowds of mostly young men who lined up outside stores waiting their turn to loot. Other businesses, including a CVS pharmacy at North and Pennsylvania avenues, were burned.
In addition to assaulting police with a hail of projectiles, some protesters also destroyed and vandalized police cars, setting multiple vehicles on fire and smashing the windows of others.
Baltimore police released a statement claiming gangs, including the Black Guerilla Family, Bloods and Crips, were uniting to “take out” law enforcement officers, although as of Monday evening there was no evidence that any such alliance had formed. Police also blamed “outside agitators” for the violence.
NBC Nightly News tweeted Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard to address the growing unrest in the state’s largest city. More than 40 Maryland State Troopers were also dispatched to Baltimore at the request of the police commissioner. Many roads were closed, and the Metro was closed between Mondawmin and Lexington Market stations. Many schools and colleges, including the University of Maryland Baltimore, closed early, as did many local businesses, including T. Rowe Price and Venable.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who announced a citywide juvenile curfew, lamented that “thugs” were destroying the city.
“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,” Rawlings-Blake said at a Monday news conference.
City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young urged Baltimoreans to stop the violence.
“The world is watching us to see if we do what took place in 1968,” Young wrote on Facebook, referring to riots that devastated the city following the assassination of civil rights icon Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in April of that year. “We literally destroyed our neighborhood and business. We never really recovered from that.”
“I know that the images people are seeing on TV are very disturbing,” Capt. Kowalczyk told reporters. “Our highest priority, our first focus right now is to protect the lives of our officers that are out on the street and the people that live and work in that area.”
“As the night goes on, you’re going to see us using tear gas and other crowd control techniques so that we can have this end peacefully without any more injuries to our officers or any of the people that are in that community,” Kowalczyk added, calling on parents to “get their children and to bring them home.”