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Baltimore riots: Black man dies in police custody

TOM FOREMAN Jr. and AMANDA L. MYERS | 5/1/2015, 10 a.m.
Rioters plunged part of Baltimore into chaos Monday, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers ...

BALTIMORE – Rioters plunged part of Baltimore into chaos Monday, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers hours after thousands mourned the man who died from a severe spinal injury he suffered in police custody.

The governor declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard to restore order. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, in her first day on the job, said she would send Justice Department officials to the city in coming days. A weeklong, daily curfew was imposed beginning Tuesday from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., the mayor said. Baltimore public schools announced that they would be closed on Tuesday.

At least 15 officers were hurt, and some two dozen people were arrested. Two officers remained hospitalized, according to police reports.

Monday’s riot was the latest flare-up over the mysterious death of Freddie Gray, an African American whose fatal encounter with officers came amid the national debate over police use of force, especially when Black suspects are involved.

Police have declined to specify the races of the six officers involved in his arrest, all of whom have been suspended with pay while they are under investigation.

“The National Guard represents the last resort in restoring order,” Gov. Larry Hogan told a news conference. “I have not made this decision lightly.”

Officers wearing helmets and wielding shields occasionally used pepper spray to keep the rioters back. For the most part, though, they relied on line formations to keep protesters at bay.

Emergency officials were constantly thwarted as they tried to restore calm in the affected parts of the city of more than 620,000 people. Firefighters trying to put out a blaze at a drug store were hindered by someone who sliced holes in a hose connected to a fire hydrant, spraying water all over the street and nearby buildings.

Later Monday night, a massive fire erupted in East Baltimore that a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake initially said was connected to the riots. He later texted an Associated Press reporter saying officials are still investigating whether there is a connection.

The Mary Harvin Transformation Center was under construction and no one was believed to be in the building at the time, said the spokesman, Kevin Harris. The center is described online as a community-based organization that supports youth and families.

“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 and destroying property, things that we know will impact our community for years,” said Rawlings-Blake, a lifelong resident of the city.

Gray’s family was shocked by the violence and was lying low; instead, they hoped to organize a peace march later in the week, said family attorney Billy Murphy. He said they did not know the riot was going to happen and urged calm.

“They don’t want this movement nationally to be marred by violence,” he said. “It makes no sense.”