Monday 27 February 2017

Baltimore riots: State of emergency declared as looters ransack stores and set fire to police cars after Freddie Gray's funeral

Ian Simpson in Baltimore

A Baltimore firefighter attacks a fire in a convenience store and residence during clashes after the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland. Reuters/Eric Thayer
A Baltimore firefighter attacks a fire in a convenience store and residence during clashes after the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland. Reuters/Eric Thayer
Demonstrators jump on a damaged Baltimore police department vehicle during clashes in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Reuters
A Baltimore Metropolitan Police transport vehicle burns during clashes in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Reuters
A protester walks through the smoke of burning Baltimore buildings set ablaze by rioters, as a police armored car drives past, during clashes in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Reuters
Baltimore firefighters rush ladders into position to fight fires in mutliple burning buildings set ablaze by rioters in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Reuters
A demonstrator stands on the street after throwing rocks at the Baltimore police during clashes in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Reuters
Firefigthers respond to a fire at a CVS pharmacy on Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore. Hundreds of rioters looted businesses and set buildings on fire in Baltimore on Monday in widespread violence that injured at least 15 police officers following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died after he was injured in police custody. Photo: Reuters
A vehicle burns during protests over the death of Freddie Gray continue, in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: EPA
Police respond to protests of the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: EPA
Police stand by a CVS that was on fire as firefighters arrive to fight the blaze, during a protest for the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: EPA
A man shouts in front of a police line beside a CVS pharmacy that caught on fire after being looted, as protests of the death of Freddie Gray continue. Photo: EPA
A youth stands in front of a police line during protests over the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: EPA
A Baltimore resident (R) trying to restore order in his neighborhood speaks to a protester during clashes in Baltimore. Photo: Reuters
A demonstrator raises his fist as police stand in formation as a store burns during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Photo: AP
A man stands in front of a police line during clashes in Baltimore, Maryland Maryland. Photo: Reuters
Baltimore police officers tackle and arrest looters after they emerged from a "Deals" store with merchandise during clashes between rioters and police in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Reuters
A fire hose cut by rioters sprays water into the air as protesters and a line of police move in at the site of a burning CVS drug store during clashes in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Reuters
Baltimore police officers arrive at a "Deals" store just vandalised and looted by rioters as darkness falls during clashes between rioters and police in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Reuters
A demonstrator looks up after being sprayed with pepper spray during clashes in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Reuters
Baltimore police officers tackle and arrest looters after they emerged from a "Deals" store with merchandise during clashes between rioters and police in Baltimore, Maryland.Photo: Reuters
Smoke billows from a CVS Pharmacy store in Baltimore. Demonstrators clashed with police after the funeral of Freddie Gray. Photo: AP
Baltimore police officers detain a demonstrator after clashes with police, after the funeral of Freddie Gray at New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore. Photo: AP
A brick sits on a street as police standby during a skirmish with demonstrators after the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Photo: AP
A police officer throws an object at protestors following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Photo: AP
A police vehicle burns during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Photo: AP
A man throws a brick at police following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Photo: AP
Demonstrators run by a damaged Baltimore police vehicle during clashes in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Reuters
People stand on top of a Baltimore police car in Baltimore during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van. Photo: AP

A state of emergency has been declared for the entire city of Baltimore overnight as whole neighborhoods were engulfed in rioting and destruction of property, plunging one more major American metropolis into civil turmoil over allegations of persistent police abuse of minorities.

Hundreds of mostly teenage African-Americans began a frenzied rampage, throwing rocks at police lines and torching police vehicles and some buildings, just hours after leaders of the community had gathered to to bury 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died one week being arrested by police with a severed spine.

The Governor of Maryland, Larry Hagan, said he declared the state of emergency and activated National Guard troops to try to return calm to the city as “last resort. For hours, the rioters had apparently had free run of parts of the city, ransacking shops and setting fires with little sign of a police response.

Officials said early last night that 15 of their officers had been injured in the violent clashes, some with broken bones, and they were all receiving treatment.

Earlier a half-constructed community centre was hollowed out by fire, but officials couldn’t say if it was directly related to the unrest. Called the Mary Harvin Transformation Center, it was to serve local youth and family initiatives.

However, an outlet of the CVS chemist chain was also set on fire after looters ransacked it. “We went in there and tore it up,” a 16-year-old, who said he was one of the looters inside, told Reuters. When emergency crews attached a hose to a fire hydrant a protestor slashed it with a knife.  In the early hours of this morning there were reports of a second CVS set ablaze in the city. An unsual quiet early today was punctured by repeated sounds of sirens.

A Baltimore firefighter cuts his way into a burning convenience store with a saw to attack a fire set by rioters at East Biddle Street and Montford Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland in the early morning hours of April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
A Baltimore firefighter cuts his way into a burning convenience store with a saw to attack a fire set by rioters at East Biddle Street and Montford Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland in the early morning hours of April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Baltimore firefighters pulls hoses from their truck to attack a fire set by rioters in a convenience store and residence on East Biddle street at Montford Avenue during rioting in Baltimore, Maryland in the early morning hours of April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
A Baltimore firefighter rushes a ladder into place to attack a fire set by rioters in a convenience store and residence on East Biddle Street and Montford Avenue during rioting in Baltimore, Maryland in the early morning hours of April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
A police officer stands nearby as firefighters attack a fire in a convenience store and residence during clashes after the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland in the early morning hours of April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
A firefighter uses a saw to open a metal gate while fighting a fire in a convenience store and residence during clashes after the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland in the early morning hours of April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
A Baltimore firefighter, who was the first emergency responder on the scene, approaches a fire set by rioters in a convenience store and residence on East Biddle Street and Montford Avenue during rioting in Baltimore, Maryland in the early morning hours of April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
A Baltimore firefighter rushes a ladder into place to attack a fire set by rioters in a convenience store and residence on East Biddle Street and Montford Avenue during rioting in Baltimore, Maryland in the early morning hours of April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Police stand guard Monday, April 27, 2015, after rioters plunged part of Baltimore into chaos, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Firefighters battle a blaze, Monday, April 27, 2015, after rioters plunged part of Baltimore into chaos, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Baltimore firefighters battle a three-alarm fire Monday, April 27, 2015, at a senior living facility under construction at Federal and Chester Streets in East Baltimore. It was unclear whether is was related to the ongoing riots but was one of several fires in the area. (Jerry Jackson/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Baltimore fire fighters attack a fire set by rioters in a convenience store and residence on East Biddle street set ablaze by rioters during clashes after the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland in the early morning hours of April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Baltimore fire fighters attack a fire set by rioters in a convenience store and residence on East Biddle street during rioting in Baltimore, Maryland in the early morning hours of April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Baltimore firefighters fight a fire inside a burning building set ablaze by rioters on East Biddle street during clashes after the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland in the early morning hours of April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
An explosion rocks a building and sends debris flying on Baltimore's East Biddle street as firefighters attack a fire set by rioters in a convenience store and residence during clashes in Baltimore, Maryland in the early morning hours of April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Protestors face police Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Rioters plunged part of Baltimore, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers. (Jerry Jackson/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
A police officer walks by a blaze, Monday, April 27, 2015, after rioters plunged part of Baltimore into chaos, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Firefighters battle a blaze, Monday, April 27, 2015, after rioters plunged part of Baltimore into chaos, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Police stand outside a shuttered store, Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Rioters plunged part of Baltimore, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
People stand on top of a Baltimore police car in Baltimore on Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van. (AP Photo/Juliet Linderman)
A boy throws a brick at police, Monday, April 27, 2015, during unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Police move a protester back, Monday, April 27, 2015, following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
A police officer stands guard Monday, April 27, 2015, after rioters plunged part of Baltimore into chaos, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
A man carries items Monday, April 27, 2015, in Baltimore. Rioters plunged part of Baltimore, torching a pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers. (Christopher T. Assaf/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

The increasingly embattled Mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, described the rioters as “thugs” and said a city-wide curfew from 10pm to 5am would be imposed for a week starting from Tuesday.

“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 Ms Rawlings-Blake.

The trouble erupted just hours after the new US Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, was sworn in. She briefed President Barack Obama on the situation. “Those who commit violent actions, ostensibly in protest of the death of Freddie Gray, do a disservice to his family, to his loved ones, and to legitimate peaceful protestors,” she said in a statement.

While most of the violence was centered in areas about 4 miles northwest of the business centre of Baltimore, a planned baseball game between the Orioles and the Chicago Cubs at Camden Yards by the harbour was postponed in case the unrest spread. Groups of young men had also roamed parts of the downtown district smashing windows and looting stores.

Firefigthers respond to a fire at a CVS pharmacy on Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore. Hundreds of rioters looted businesses and set buildings on fire in Baltimore on Monday in widespread violence that injured at least 15 police officers following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died after he was injured in police custody. Photo: Reuters
Firefigthers respond to a fire at a CVS pharmacy on Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore. Hundreds of rioters looted businesses and set buildings on fire in Baltimore on Monday in widespread violence that injured at least 15 police officers following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died after he was injured in police custody. Photo: Reuters

A man boarding up one ransacked shop told The Independent, he had been offered bottles of looted vodka by looters for one dollar each at a nearby petrol station. “I swear to God, that’s what I saw,” said Faizan Shahid.  He added angrily that he wanted to tell them to “shove them up there asses”.

The police have yet fully to explain the circumstances of the arrest of Mr Gray but there has been speculation that he may have suffered the injuries that killed him while being taken to jail in the back of a police wagon.  Suspects are placed in a narrow metal box in the rear of the vans and must be strapped in.  Video has shown Mr Gray was not strapped in.  The six officers who arrested him have been suspended with pay.  The department has not revealed their ethnic backgrounds.

All this came to the boil as the nation as a whole has been gripped by raw debate about how young blacks are treated by the police, which was ignited last August by the killing of Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Missouri by a white police officer.  The protests there were also violent, especially when a local grand jury elected to not indict the officer for any crime.

Even as the funeral of Mr Gray was under way at the New Shiloh Baptist Church here, a police bulletin said the department had received a “credible threat” that several gangs including the Black Guerilla Family, Bloods and Crips usually at war with each other in the city were intending to unite and “take out” personnel and property their common target.

While hundreds of teenagers ran amok another group tried to stage a more orderly protest, linking arms and getting down on their knees in front of a line of police to voice their anger at the death of Mr Gray.  Then then rose to their feet and continued until they were face to face with the riot-gear dressed police.  Among them was Elijah Cummings, a US Congressman who represents the city.

As a representative for Mr Gray's family appealed for calm, television images showed a smoke billowing from CVS pharmacy store and, elsewhere, police firing tear gas to try and clear the streets. Many commentators questioned why the police had not been more proactive in stopping the looting, especially since there were widespread reports that violent protests were planned.

Police respond to protests of the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: EPA
Police respond to protests of the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: EPA

Youths stoned a city bus and passing police vehicles outside the Mondawmin Mall in north west Baltimore close to the site of the funeral. From a helicopter, police called for them to disperse, but the youths ignored the order.

"We will try and arrest people who are responsible for attacks on officers," police spokesman Cpt Eric Kowalczyk told CNN.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch released a statement, saying: "I condemn the senseless acts of violence by some individuals in Baltimore that have resulted in harm to law enforcement officers, destruction of property and a shattering of the peace in the city of Baltimore.

A demonstrator looks up after being sprayed with pepper spray during clashes in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Reuters
A demonstrator looks up after being sprayed with pepper spray during clashes in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Reuters

"Those who commit violent actions, ostensibly in protest of the death of Freddie Gray, do a disservice to his family, to his loved ones, and to legitimate peaceful protestors who are working to improve their community for all its residents."

Earlier on Monday, a long line of mourners stretched out of the front door of the New Shiloh Baptist Church where the funeral was held, Reuters reported.

“I am here to show that Freddie's loss of life was not in vain,” said Joe Jones, head of the Centre for Urban Families, which provides aid to local residents.

“There's a lot of frustration, a lot of disappointment. This is a microcosm of things that are happening“ to young black men across the United States.

On Sunday, people who did not even know Mr Gray filed in a steady stream for hours into a funeral home for his wake. Some people stood outside with signs that read “We remember Freddie” and “Our Hearts Are With The Gray Family”.

Mr Gray lay inside in a coffin, dressed in a white shirt, black trousers,  white shoes and a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap. Above the lid to the coffin was a floral arrangement and inside the lid was a pillow with a screen-printed picture of Gray flanked by doves and the quote, "Peace, Y'all" at the bottom edge.

Irish Independent

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