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Wednesday 21 March 2018

Baltimore's mayor lifts curfew

The street party in Baltimore the day after charges were announced against the police officers involved in Freddie Gray's death (AP)
The street party in Baltimore the day after charges were announced against the police officers involved in Freddie Gray's death (AP)

Baltimore's mayor has lifted a citywide curfew six days after riots were sparked by the death of a black man who suffered a severe spinal injury while in police custody.

The order for residents to stay at home after 10pm had been in place since Tuesday, and officials had planned to keep it in place throughout today.

Protests since Monday's riots have been peaceful, and the announcement of charges against six officers involved in Freddie Gray's arrest eased tensions.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said today that her goal was not to maintain the curfew any longer than was necessary.

The six officers face charges ranging from manslaughter to second-degree murder.

Baltimore's unrest came amid a fierce national debate over police treatment of minorities and follows the deaths of unarmed African-Americans in New York, South Carolina and Ferguson, Missouri.

"My number one priority in instituting a curfew was to ensure the public peace, safety, health and welfare of Baltimore citizens," the Democratic mayor said. "It was not an easy decision, but one I felt was necessary to help our city restore calm."

Mr Gray died after suffering a broken neck while inside a police van. On Friday, State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby filed charges against the six officers involved in his arrest, transport and fatal injury. The officers face charges ranging from manslaughter to second-degree murder.

Ms Mosby, who deemed the death a homicide, said Gray's neck was broken because he was placed head-first into a police van while in handcuffs and later leg shackles where he was left to slam against the walls of the small metal compartment. Police said the officers who arrested Gray ignored his cries for help because they thought he was faking his injuries. He was repeatedly denied medical attention.

At a demonstration yesterday that was billed as a "victory rally," speakers expressed gratitude to Ms Mosby for her decision.

"Every prosecutor should have such backbone," said Malik Shabazz, president of Black Lawyers for Justice and one of the demonstration's organisers.

The 10 pm curfew, which was ordered on Tuesday after a night of violence, looting and arson, drew harsh criticism from the city's residents.

About 3,000 National Guard soldiers were deployed to the city along with 1,000 extra police officers, including some from out of state. Republican Governor Larry Hogan said the Guard and the officers would be leaving over the next few days.

"When I came into the city on Monday night, it was in flames," Mr Hogan said. "We think it's time to get the community back to normal again. It's been a very hard week, but we've kept everybody safe. Since Monday night, we haven't had any serious problems."

The Maryland chapter of the ACLU civil rights group sent a letter to Ms Rawlings-Blake yesterday alleging that the curfew was "being enforced arbitrarily and selectively" to break up peaceful protests and prevent media outlets from providing accurate coverage of police activity.

"The curfew is having a dramatic effect on the ability of Baltimore residents to simply go about their daily lives free from fear or arbitrary arrest," the letter read, adding that it's also "the target of protest and the source of new problems rather than a solution."

More than 200 people were arrested during Monday's riots, and more than half of those were released without charge.

Press Association

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