21 October 2016
Looters haul goods from a CVS pharmacy at the height of rioting in Baltimore, Maryland, on Monday. Photo: AFP
Looters haul goods from a CVS pharmacy at the height of rioting in Baltimore, Maryland, on Monday. Photo: AFP

State of emergency declared as riots rock Baltimore

Rioters hurled bricks, looted businesses and set fires in Baltimore on Monday in violence that followed the funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died after he was injured in police custody. 

The disturbances broke out just a few blocks from the funeral of Freddie Gray and then spread through parts of Baltimore in the most violent US demonstrations since looting in Ferguson, Missouri, last year, Reuters reported. At least seven police officers were injured.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard as firefighters tried to extinguish fires set by looters and rioters with baseball bats.

Gray’s death on April 19 reignited a public outcry over police treatment of African Americans that flared last year after the killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, New York City and elsewhere. 

After more than an hour of mayhem, hundreds of police moved into glass-strewn streets where the worst of the violence had taken place and used pepper spray on rioters who had sacked check-cashing and liquor stores.

Rioters cut a fire department hose while firefighters fought a fire at a CVS pharmacy looted earlier, police said.

Older community leaders tried to calm down mostly young rioters and prevent clashes with the police.

An Orioles baseball game was canceled and schools, businesses and train stations shut down in the city of 662,000 people about 64 kilometers from the nation’s capital.

“All this had to happen, people getting tired of the police killing the young black guys for no reason. … It is a sad day but it had to happen,” said Tony Luster, 40, who is on disability and was out on the street watching the police line.

A string of deadly confrontations between mostly white police and black men, and the violence it has prompted, will be among the challenges facing US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who was sworn in on Monday, the news agency said.

Following her swearing in, Lynch said improving relations between police and the communities they protect will be high on her agenda.

“We can restore trust and faith both in our laws and in those of us who enforce them,” she said.

Wary of violent clashes between black youths and police, pastors and community leaders moved into the area to try to calm tensions. Gray’s family had pleaded for peaceful demonstrations.

But Looters were nonchalant and showed their faces.

“We went in there and tore it up,” said Tyrone Jackson, 16, wearing a hoodie and a thin mustache. He said he was one of the looters inside the CVS.

Just down the street from the smoldering CVS, business owner Daisy Bush, 61, said: “The sad part about it is that a lot of people from the community were up there in the CVS, stealing stuff out of it. It’s a disgrace.”

The largely black city has long struggled with high crime and gangs, a reputation that has made it the setting for gritty television police dramas such as The Wire, the report said. Last year officials adopted one of the strictest youth curfews in the United States in an effort to tackle its crime problems.

Gray was arrested on April 12 when he fled from police in a high-crime area. He was carrying a switchblade knife, and he was put inside a transport van to be taken to a police station. At some point, Gray suffered the spinal injury that led to his death a week later.

Six officers have been suspended, and the US Justice Department is investigating the incident for possible civil rights violations.

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