Monday 22 May 2017

Troops patrolling streets as Baltimore convulsed by riots

Maryland National Guardsmen patrol near office buildings in Baltimore, a day following unrest that occurred after Freddie Gray's funeral. Photo: AP
Maryland National Guardsmen patrol near office buildings in Baltimore, a day following unrest that occurred after Freddie Gray's funeral. Photo: AP
Members of the community hold hands in front of police officers in riot gear outside a recently looted and burned CVS store in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Reuters
Police gather at North Ave and Pennsylvania Ave in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Reuters
Reverend Jesse Jackson speaks to the members of national media near the CVS Pharmacy building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore. Photo: Reuters
A protester yells "register to vote" near the condemned CVS Pharmacy building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore. Photo: Reuters

Raf Sanchez in Washington

Brian Woodyard Jr stood alone at the corner of McKean Avenue with a machete in his hand. Behind him was the corner shop he had vowed to defend. Its glass door had already been smashed in by looters. Groups of youths ran through the darkness of nearby streets.

Was he prepared to actually use the weapon he was holding? "You're damn straight I am," he replied.

Would that be legal? "Nope," he laughed. "But forget the law when the law can't protect civilians. This is kind of all-out war."

Mr Woodyard's lone watch was just one of many moments of chaos, disorder and lawlessness as the streets of Baltimore erupted into rioting on Monday night.

Protesters clashed with heavily armoured police and set fire to cars and buildings in scenes reminiscent of last year's unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. By midnight, 15 officers had been injured and about 30 people arrested.

The chaos was sparked by the death of a young black man at the hands of American police.

Freddie Gray (25) died in police custody on April 19, a week after he was arrested. A post-mortem examination found his spine had been effectively severed and video captured by a bystander shows him in obvious agony as police carry him away in handcuffs.

Although six officers were suspended and Mr Gray's family appealed for calm, it was not enough to prevent an outbreak of violence and a state of emergency being declared.

Groups of young people confronted police with rocks and bricks at around 3pm after widely circulated social posts about a "purge" - a reference to the 2013 film 'The Purge', about the total collapse of society.

Within hours, looting and unrest was spreading to part of western Baltimore.

Police said that several rival criminal gangs - the Bloods, the Crips, and the Black Guerilla Family - had made a pact to attack police officers in revenge for Mr Gray's death. A group of men in hoods and face masks raced past in the back up a pick-up truck - a scene more often seen in the Middle East than a major American city.

A man in a gas mask used a knife to cut open a firefighter's hose as the fire brigade struggled to put out a burning pharmacy. Looters walked brazenly down the middle of the road with shopping carts packed with stolen goods.

Baltimore police responded with tear gas and lines of shields and truncheons. Larry Hogan, the governor of Maryland, declared a state of emergency and authorised National Guard troops to deploy on the streets.

Authorities declared a curfew from 10pm last night in the hope of restoring order. But both the mayor and the governor were facing questions over whether they had been too slow to respond and allowed the protesters to get out of hand.

Lisa Mills, a 45-year-old woman in a wheelchair, said she had brought her six-year-old grandson Donte on to the streets to see the "historic" events unfolding.

She said she disagreed with the violence but understood the anger of young people who felt the police were not on their side. "Donte could very well be one of the people that gets hurt by the police when he grows up," she said.

Dante Valentine, a 45-year-old filmmaker from Baltimore, called Mr Gray's death "a murder". "I'm not condoning what's happening but I'm not condemning it either," he said as he watched a building burn. "No one has ever listened to peaceful protests so maybe this will get their attention." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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