Police enforce curfew in Baltimore, disperse protesters
BALTIMORE - Reuters
AFP PhotoThousands of police in riot gear and National Guard troops patrolled Baltimore to enforce a curfew at night, dispersing protesters with pepper spray a day after the city was shaken by the worst rioting in the United States in years.
With helicopters overhead and armored vehicles on the ground, most people respected a curfew that started at 10 p.m. local time and goes until 5 a.m. all week.
But a few hundred people defied authorities, gathering at an intersection that was the scene of heavy looting in the largely black city a night earlier. Police broke up the group using rubber bullets and projectiles with pepper spray chemical irritant, and arrested seven people. Three more were arrested elsewhere in the city.
Baltimore erupted in violence on April 27, hours after the funeral for a black man who died April 19 after he was injured in police custody a week earlier.
The death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray has renewed a national debate on law enforcement and race that was sparked by police killing unarmed black men last year in Ferguson, Missouri; New York City and elsewhere.
Just ahead of the curfew, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake went to the intersection where protesters had gathered and pleaded with them to go home.
“Let’s take our babies home and abide by the curfew. I want to thank you for understanding that we want to bring peace,” Rawlings-Blake said through a megaphone.
On April 27, shops were looted, 19 buildings were set on fire, 20 officers were injured and police arrested more than 250 people in the city just 64 kilometers from the nation’s capital in Washington.
More than 2,000 National Guard troops and 1,000 police from all over Maryland, as well as from New Jersey and the District of Columbia, were sent in to restore order.
Almost a quarter of the 620,000 people in Baltimore live below the poverty line and decayed, crime-ridden areas of the city inspired the gritty television police drama “The Wire.”
Baltimore saw scenes of reconciliation, cleanup and even celebration, as well as continued protest on April 28.
Groups of demonstrators marched and chanted “Black Lives Matter,” one of the anthems of a national movement against police use of lethal force, which is used disproportionately against minorities.
Near a looted and burned-out CVS pharmacy, hundreds of people waved flags and swayed in the street as they watched 50 dancers gyrating to the drumming of a unity band put together for the evening from music groups from all over the city.
“It feels good to see everyone coming together. People just enjoying themselves,” said Roxanne Gaither, 45. “This is what Freddie Gray would have wanted to see. Last night was terrible if a curfew is what it takes to avoid that, so be it.”
In Chicago, about 500 people demonstrated outside police headquarters and marched in solidarity with the people of Baltimore, chanting “Stop Police Violence.” At least one person was arrested, but the event was mostly peaceful.