Troops descend on Baltimore after riots, fires paralyze city

A brick sits on a street as police standby, Monday, April 27, 2015, during a skirmish with demonstrators after the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

BALTIMORE (AP) — National Guardsmen took up positions across Baltimore and hundreds of volunteers began sweeping the streets of broken glass and other debris Tuesday, the morning after riots erupted following the funeral of a black man who died in police custody.

The streets were calm in the morning, but authorities remained on edge against the possibility of another outbreak of looting and arson. The city was under a 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew, all public schools were closed, and the Baltimore Orioles canceled their Tuesday night game.

“We’re not going to leave the city unprotected,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan vowed during a visit to a West Baltimore intersection where cars were burned and windows smashed the night before.

State Police and law officers from other jurisdictions joined Baltimore police in patrolling the streets. National Guardsmen in riot helmets with face shields surrounded City Hall, standing behind bicycle-rack barriers.

It was the first time the National Guard was called out to quell unrest in Baltimore since 1968, when some of the same neighborhoods burned after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

As firefighters doused smoldering fires around the city, many lamented the damage done by the rioters to their own neighborhoods.

Hundreds of volunteers helped shopkeepers clean up as helmeted officers blocked a stretch of North Avenue in the neighborhood where Freddie Gray, 25, was arrested earlier in this month in a case that has become the latest flashpoint in the national debate over the police use of deadly force against black men.

Hardware stores donated trash bags and brooms, and city workers brought in trucks to haul away mounds of trash and broken glass.

At the White House, President Barack Obama called the deaths of several black men at the hands of police “a slow rolling crisis.” But he added that there was “no excuse” for the violence in Baltimore, and said the looters were stealing, not protesting, and should be treated as criminals.

With schools closed, Blanca Tapahuasco brought her three sons, ages 2 to 8, from another part of the city to help sweep the brick-and-pavement courtyard outside a looted CVS pharmacy.

“We’re helping the neighborhood build back up,” she said. “This is an encouragement to them to know the rest of the city is not just looking on and wondering what to do.”

CVS store manager Haywood McMorris said the destruction didn’t make sense: “We work here, man. This is where we stand, and this is where people actually make a living.”

The rioting started in West Baltimore on Monday afternoon — within a mile of where Gray was arrested — and by midnight had spread to East Baltimore and neighborhoods close to downtown and near the baseball stadium.

The rioters set police cars and buildings on fire, looted a mall and liquor stores and hurled rocks, bottles and cinderblocks at police in riot gear. Police responded occasionally with pepper spray or cleared the streets by moving in tight formation, shoulder to shoulder.

At least 20 officers were hurt, one person was critically injured in a fire, more than 200 adults and 34 juveniles were arrested, and nearly 150 cars were burned, police said.

“They just outnumbered us and outflanked us,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said. “We needed to have more resources out there.”

The rioting was the worst such violence in the U.S. since the turbulent protests that broke out over the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed black 18-year-old who was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer.

“I understand anger, but what we’re seeing isn’t anger,” Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake lamented. “It’s disruption of a community. The same community they say they care about, they’re destroying. You can’t have it both ways.”

State and local authorities found themselves responding to questions about whether their initial response had been adequate.

Maryland National Guard spokesman Lt. Charles Kohler said that about 2,000 members would be deployed through the day and that the force could build to 5,000.

Also, State Police said they were putting out a call for up to 500 additional law enforcement officers from Maryland and as many as 5,000 from around the mid-Atlantic region.

Gray was arrested April 12 after running away at the sight of police, authorities said. He was held down, handcuffed and loaded into a police van. Leg cuffs were put on him when he became irate inside. He died of a spinal cord injury a week later.

Authorities said they are still investigating how and when he suffered the injury — during the arrest or while he was in the van, where authorities say he was riding without being belted in, a violation of department policy. Six officers have been suspended with pay while the investigation continues.

 

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