- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 28, 2015

BALTIMORERandy Lee, 49, was relieved to see his retail store, North-West Variety, located on one of the most looted blocks in West Baltimore, still standing Tuesday after neighboring buildings were ransacked and nearly 150 vehicles set afire in protests the night before.

Mr. Lee has lived in Baltimore his entire life, so when the shop’s owner called him Monday night, during the height of the rioting, and told him it was necessary he open the store at 8 a.m. — regardless of the ground situation — Mr. Lee didn’t cower.

“We felt the need to continue, to go on. We felt as though we were not going to let ‘f-you’ hoodlums interfere with our way of life. We have to go on, we have to be stronger,” Mr. Lee said of the shop’s decision to maintain its operating hours despite the surrounding chaos.

Of the seven stores located on Mr. Lee’s block between Druid Hill and Etting Street, his was the only one that opened Tuesday.

North-West Variety sells cellphone accessories, clothing, hats, sunglasses and sodas, and is located in the neighborhood where Freddie Gray — whose funeral sparked the riots — was initially arrested.

The metal bars on the store protected it from the widespread pillaging and looting that took place Monday, after teenagers attacked police with bricks and rocks — a violent attack that garnered support in various communities across Baltimore and prompted opportunists to take advantage of the city’s vulnerabilities.

The CVS drugstore located in the community, and locally owned Keystone Pharmacy, were the hardest hit, as was the ACES Cash Express store, which had broken windows and several bullet holes in the inside security glass. Almost all ATMs running along North Avenue were vandalized.

Mr. Lee said his store — which sits among broken-down homes and other bankrupt businesses — helped serve the community by offering disenfranchised youth food, clothing and the occasional odd job. It tried to offer hope in a community that’s been economically downtrodden and hit by racial profiling from the Baltimore Police Department, he said.

More than 20 police officers were injured in the rioting, which resulted in 144 vehicle fires and the torching of several buildings, Baltimore Police Capt. J. Eric Kowalczyk said Tuesday afternoon. More than 200 people, including three dozen juveniles, were taken into custody.

With the city bracing for more trouble, several colleges closed early Tuesday, including Loyola University Maryland, Johns Hopkins University and Towson University. The city’s public schools, closed Tuesday, will reopen Wednesday.

The Baltimore Orioles canceled Tuesday night’s scheduled home game and announced that Wednesday’s contest against the Chicago White Sox would take place behind closed doors with no spectators — a first in Major League Baseball history.

Maryland’s governor said 2,000 Guardsmen and 1,000 law officers would be in place Tuesday night, and the city is under a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. “This combined force will not tolerate violence or looting,” Gov. Larry Hogan warned.

But hundreds of demonstrators defied the curfew Tuesday, most prominently at the corner of Pennsylvania and North avenues, but began dispersing when lines of police moved in.

About 20 minutes after the deadline, the Baltimore Police Department began throwing smoke devices and firing pepper pellets at Pennsylvania and North after having banged their shields on the ground as a warning.

A handful of demonstrators already had thrown rocks, bottles and other missiles at the police line and yelled obscenities at the cops. But they mostly dispersed after the police began firing back.

In one of the major points of dispute over Monday’s riots, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said police did not move in earlier because the rock-throwers and car-burners in the first stages of the riot were “kids” who had just been let out of school.

“Do you want people using force on 14-, 15- and 16-year-old kids that are out there?” he asked. “They’re old enough to know better. But they’re still kids. And so we had to take that into account while we were out there.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake waited hours to ask the governor to declare a state of emergency, and Mr. Hogan hinted she should have come to him earlier. The mayor said officials initially thought they had the unrest under control.

The immediate trigger for the rioting was the funeral of Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died of a traumatic spinal injury he suffered while in police custody.

But in a startlingly segregated city struggling with failing schools, failing infrastructure, a failing economy and a police department under federal investigation, it seemed only a matter of time before the west side of Baltimore boiled over.

“All we have left, all many of us have left, is our dignity,” said Robert Stokes, 36, as he stood with a broom and dustpan at Pennsylvania and North avenues hours after people smashed windows, looted stores and set trash cans on fire.

The Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, where Mr. Lee’s shop stands and Mr. Stokes was cleaning, has been plagued with substandard housing, poor education and massive unemployment.

A 2011 Baltimore Health Department report found 55 percent of families who resided there lived on less than $25,000 a year, and 30 percent were mired in poverty, roughly twice the rate of the rest of the city. Unemployment was at 21 percent, almost twice Baltimore’s overall rate.

In order to help residents in the neighborhood, and to subdue any further rioting, the NAACP said Tuesday it was going to open a satellite office in Sandtown-Winchester to offer its residents expungement services and legal counsel on a variety of issues including claims of police misconduct, the NAACP said in a statement.

The office will also register voters and attend to whatever else the community cites as a concern.

Tay Jones, 33, who lives on North Avenue in the Druid Heights area, said he hopes the riots will place a national spotlight on the Baltimore Police Department and the crumbling economic situation of his neighborhood, and thus spur elected officials to action.

But the city’s political leaders warned that the damage done by the rioters — both physically and to the city’s image — couldn’t be so easily undone.

“The same community they say they care about, they’re destroying. You can’t have it both ways,” Ms. Rawlings-Blake said.

But the mayor also walked back her Monday night remarks that mere “thugs” had tried to tear down the city.

“I wanted to say something that was on my heart. … We don’t have thugs in Baltimore. Sometimes my little anger interpreter gets the best of me,” she said Tuesday, pointing to her head. “We have a lot of kids that are acting out, a lot of people in our community that are acting out.”

But many Baltimore residents used the occasion to vow not to ignore the plight of the neighborhood for any longer.

Blanca Tapahuasco brought her three sons, ages 2 to 8, from another part of the city to help clean up 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.”

⦁ This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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