- The Washington Times - Monday, April 27, 2015

Violent clashes between police and angry crowds erupted on Baltimore’s streets Monday afternoon and fires burned into the night after hundreds gathered for the funeral of a 25-year-old black man who was fatally injured while in police custody.

Dozens of people threw bottles, bricks and other objects at police dressed in riot gear, injuring at least 15 officers. 

Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said six of the officers were seriously hurt and required treatment at a shock-trauma hospital, though he added that they all would recover.

At least 27 people had been arrested by around 8:30 p.m.

The violence prompted Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to declare a state of emergency and activate the state’s National Guard as “the last resort in restoring order.”

“I have not made this decision lightly,” he said.

PHOTOS: Slide Show: See the violence in Baltimore up close

Both Mr. Hogan and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake repeatedly blamed the riots Monday night on “thugs” and “outside agitators.”

Ms. Rawlings-Blake instituted a weeklong curfew citywide from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Tuesday. Officials with Baltimore schools, many of whose students began the violent protests after classes let out for the afternoon, announced that schools would be closed 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,” Ms. Rawlings-Blake said Monday evening, announcing the curfew. “If you are on the streets, it will be for two reasons: medical emergency or you’re going to work. That’s it.”

All through the afternoon and into the night, television footage captured images of people looting and burning stores and attacking unmanned police cars, first near the Mondawmin Mall, then in neighborhoods in northwest Baltimore and eventually in scattered areas citywide.

Rioters set police vehicles and other cars on fire and smashed the windshields of dozens of vehicles.

WTOP, a D.C. radio station, said five journalists had reported being attacked.

SEE ALSO: Baltimore riots: Gang attacks on white police officers may spread outside city

In East Baltimore, a massive three-alarm fire consumed a building under construction for a community-based organization that supports youths and families.

Mayor spokesman Kevin Harris said the huge blaze at the Mary Harvin Transformation Center, which was scheduled to open in December at a cost of $18 million, was riot-related. Also ruined in the blaze was a senior living center for 60 people, said Donte Hickman, pastor of a neighborhood Baptist church.

About 80 firefighters were battling the blaze Monday night, and Deputy Chief Fire Marshall Shawn Belton said embers had damaged two other nearby buildings.

A church group had been working on building the senior center over the span of several years.

Mr. Hickman watched in dismay as their project erupted in flames. He heard about the fire while marching across the city with other religious leaders in protest of the riots. He said the destruction of the would-be center, which was near completion when it went up in flames, hurt his heart.

But he also said he was not discouraged by the tragedy. For Baltimore, his personal misfortune will serve as a wake-up call that “Baltimore has been ignored for too long.”

“This is going to spark a revival,” Mr. Hickman said. “This fire is going to spark the revival that is going to take place. Transformation has to begin with restoring people.”

A few hours after the smoldering embers began to settle in the debris of the senior center, Ms. Rawlings-Blake arrived at the scene to observe the destruction.

“This is one of our darkest days as a city,” she said.

One firefighter was reported injured in a separate blaze at a bar.

Deputy Chief Shift Commander Karl Zimmerman told reporters that firefighters will have police escorts wherever possible.

The melees broke out after a funeral service for Freddie Gray, who suffered a severe spinal injury while in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department earlier this month.

Mr. Gray’s death April 19, a week after he was injured during an encounter that remains under investigation, spawned a series of protests against police brutality in the city. But Monday’s demonstrations were by far the most violent.

“I strongly condemn the actions of the offenders who are engaged in direct attacks against innocent civilians, businesses and law enforcement officers,” Mr. Hogan said. “These malicious attacks against law enforcement and local communities only betray the cause of peaceful citizens seeking answers and justice following the death of Freddie Gray.”

Baltimore City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young showed up at a hot spot on North Avenue to witness the violence as the sun began to set and the shouts of hostility began to increase. Young people were taunting police in riot gear on the street while looting nearby stores. Mr. Young said he was having trouble understanding why they were so riled up.

“It’s a shame that these young people are acting like they’re acting,” he said. “They are so angry.”

Mr. Young shook his head in dismay while, over his shoulder, children were breaking grass and stealing pills at a pharmacy.

“Gotta get that Perc. Get that Perc!” one youngster shouted inside the store as various juveniles rummaged through broken pill bottles and glass.

Percocet is an opioid drug that numbs pain.

Several officers were injured in the riot. Police initially struggled to evacuate the injured officers from the area as swarms of young people pelted them with rocks and other objects, officials said.

Capt. Eric Kowalczyk, a spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department, said at least one of the officers was “unresponsive” and others suffered broken bones.

The violence led the Baltimore Orioles to postpone a baseball game at Camden Yards, scheduled for 7 p.m. against the Chicago White Sox.

During Gray’s funeral service, the Baltimore Police Department issued a warning that the agency received intelligence indicating that rival gangs had joined forces to “take out” cops.

Police officials issued an alert saying that rival gangs with national affiliations including the Bloods, Crips, and Black Guerrilla Family had “entered into a partnership to ‘take out’ law enforcement officers.”

“This is a credible threat,” the alert stated. “Law enforcement agencies should take appropriate precautions to ensure the safety of their officers.”

Images broadcast by WJZ-TV showed people surrounding an unoccupied police car and jumping on top of the vehicle. Tactical vehicles moved in, and officers caught and threw one of the perpetrators to the ground.

Later, a line of police officers holding riot shields formed a barrier around a burning CVS pharmacy as firefighters worked to extinguish the fire.

Rioters had other ideas. Two took knives and, while CNN cameras were running, cut into the hose that firefighters were using to put out the blaze.

Police departments from surrounding jurisdictions, including Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, responded to provide extra manpower to aid Baltimore police.

At a Monday night news conference, Mr. Hogan and other state officials detailed their force capabilities.

They said the Maryland National Guard is capable of deploying up to 5,000 troops and the Maryland State Police had requested assistance from an additional 5,000 law enforcement officers from agencies across the region.

The National Guard was expected to have some presence in the city Monday night, patrolling streets and protecting property, said Maryland National Guard Maj. Gen. Linda L. Singh.

“This is not martial law,” said Gen. Singh, noting that the Guard will be in a supportive role assisting police and is not taking control of command.

When looting broke out at the Mondawmin Mall early in the evening, police began firing beanbags and rubber bullets at the thieves.

“We will do whatever is appropriate to protect the safety of our police officers and to ensure the safety of the people who live and work in the Mondawmin area,” said Capt. Kowalczyk, noting that tear gas and other methods would be used.

Images on cable news showed some of the rioters had prepared for this, already wearing gas masks.

City officials as well as Mr. Gray’s family called for peace in the hours before and after the funeral.

“They don’t want this movement nationally to be marred by violence,” said Gray family attorney Billy Murphy. “It makes no sense.”

Outrage over Mr. Gray’s death — one of several involving police action against unarmed black men nationwide in recent months — sparked protests last week that grew to include more than 1,200 demonstrators Saturday.

Mr. Gray died in a West Baltimore hospital April 19, one week after he was arrested. City police said they pursued and apprehended Mr. Gray after he “made eye contact” with one officer and ran away.

Mr. Gray suffered a traumatic spinal injury, and cellphone videos of his arrest showed him crying out in pain as he was being placed into a police van.

Police officials later said that Mr. Gray was handcuffed and his legs were shackled, but he was not placed in a seat belt in the van — an apparent violation of official procedures. The six officers involved in his arrest and transport have been suspended with pay as the police department investigates the incident.

Commissioner Batts has said the investigation would wrap up before Friday.

Newly sworn-in Attorney General Loretta Lynch vowed in a statement Monday evening to conduct a civil rights investigation into Mr. Gray’s death and the Baltimore Police Department more broadly.

She added that she “condemn[s] 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 spokesman for Democratic presidential contender Martin O’Malley, a former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor, said he would cut short an Ireland trip where he had planned to be giving paid speeches to business groups.

During an evening press conference Monday, Ms. Rawlings-Blake defended statements she made earlier about the way police handled the protests over the weekend. She said she did not ask police to give space to people who sought to create violence and that her comments were mischaracterized.

“We are deploying every resource possible to regain control of the situation,” Ms. Rawlings-Blake said, noting that an existing 9 p.m. curfew for minors would be in effect Monday night.

Young people appeared to play a role in the violence, and police pleaded with parents to check on their children and get them off the streets.

“Due to the large number of juveniles in these violent groups, we are asking for parents to please bring your children home,” officials wrote on the Baltimore police Twitter account.

Mr. Murphy joined officials’ pleas for juveniles and youths to stay home and said CNN and other cable networks may be “inadvertently encouraging kids to join their friends.”

He said more positive and peaceful reactions to Mr. Gray’s death, such as the funeral service, need to be held up to city youths as better examples.

“These are the most immature young adults in our society,” he said, downplaying reports of organized gang involvement. The rioters are “just regular kids with little or nothing to do at night, who just want a level of excitement.”

The Baltimore Sun reported that a flier was distributed among city school students by social media Monday afternoon advertising a “purge” at the Mondawmin Mall. The term was a reference to the film “The Purge,” which centers on what would happen if all laws were suspended.

The mall is less than a mile from the New Shiloh Baptist Church, the well-known congregation in Northwest Baltimore where hundreds of people gathered for Mr. Gray’s funeral services.

Among the mourners were Democratic Reps. Elijah E. Cummings and John Sarbanes, who represent parts of Baltimore; longtime civil rights activists Dick Gregory and the Rev. Al Sharpton; and former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, also a former congressman.

“We will not rest until we address this and see that justice is done,” Mr. Cummings said of the Gray case, addressing mourners from the church pulpit during the two-hour funeral. “And so, this is our watch. We will not fail you.”

⦁ Washington Times reporter Maggie Ybarra contributed to this article from Baltimore. This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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