The streets of this city erupted in violence Monday hours after the funeral of a black man who suffered a mortal injury in police custody, with hundreds of rioters setting police cars and businesses ablaze, throwing rocks, looting stores and injuring at least 15 officers, six of them seriously.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and called out the National Guard. Police from nearby towns converged to help restore order after a week of protests turned violent over the weekend, culminating Monday in running street battles.
A Baltimore Orioles game at Camden Yards was abruptly canceled, sending hundreds of exiting fans streaming into the streets near downtown. Police in riot gear erected barricades around City Hall and the inner harbor tourist area as a string of structure fires burned in various parts of the city.
“Too many people have spent a generation 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,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said as she declared a citywide curfew beginning 10 p.m. Tuesday. She said city schools would be closed Tuesday.
The unrest was touched off by the April 19 death of Freddie Gray, 25, who had been arrested a week earlier and injured while in custody. His spine was partially severed, and how that happened is under investigation. Police are scheduled to release the results of their investigation Friday.
On Monday, Baltimore police announced they had received a “credible threat” that three violent gangs — the Black Guerrilla Family, the Bloods and the Crips — were working together to “take out” law enforcement officers.
“This is a group of lawless individuals with no regard for people,” said police Capt. Eric Kowalczyk. “We don't know who is out there. We do know they are criminals and have attacked officers without provocation.”
U.S. Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch — the first black woman to serve as the nation's top law enforcement officer — condemned the violence. She promised to work with community leaders to “protect the security and civil rights of all residents” as federal officials conduct an independent investigation into Gray's death.
The unrest began in the afternoon when a few people confronted a phalanx of officers. Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said a call had gone out to high school students on social media urging demonstrators to gather at the Mondawmin Mall, then move toward City Hall. Batts said officials had information that “a large purge of high school students” would be there.
He said 250 to 300 officers were at the mall, and they were outnumbered.
“Yes, we planned for it,” he said. “That wasn't the issue. We just had too many people out there” for the officers to handle.
Fifteen officers were injured, including six seriously, Batts said.
He called for parents to step up, citing a mother who had stopped her son. “I wish I had more parents that took charge of the kids out there tonight,” he said.
A 2013 movie called “The Purge” was based on the idea of a temporary suspension of all law.
James Eldredge, 25, of Baltimore saw people throwing rocks near the mall. A nearby corner was littered with bricks and chunks of rock. “It's kind of sad to see what's going on here,” he said. “It's not a movie, it's not Ferguson. This is home.”
Donte Reives, 24, who works security at the University of Maryland, watched the melee from the mall parking lot. “You hate to see your city like this,” he said. “We’re better than this.... This ain’t for Freddie.”
A few blocks away, helicopters hovered overhead as crowds of people milled around. A firefighter standing by a hydrant said rioters had tried to cut fire hoses.
George Roy, 49, a surgical technician, lives about six blocks from where Gray was arrested, and about a block from a CVS pharmacy that was set afire Monday. All the businesses up and down his block have been looted, he said, calling it “outright crazy.”
“They destroyed the city and they didn't wait for the investigation to occur,” he said.
“Now we don’t have stores to go to. We don’t have fast food we can eat at, because they’ve destroyed it all,” Roy said.
The violence came about two weeks after Gray's arrest. Gray and a friend were walking in West Baltimore on April 12 when, officials have said, Gray made eye contact with an officer and fled. Police gave chase.
Videos of the arrest show Gray being put into a police van, dragging his feet, with his hands cuffed behind him. He can be heard screaming. During the trip to police headquarters, Gray asked for medical help, including for an inhaler, but did not receive it.
The van stopped at least twice. At one stop, captured by another video, Gray was taken out of the van and placed on the ground. His legs were put in irons and he was returned to the van. At the second stop, another prisoner was put inside, separated from Gray by a metal barrier. There is no camera in the van.
When officers reached headquarters and took Gray out of the van, he could not speak and was not breathing. Gray slipped into a coma, underwent surgery and died a week later.
Gray died of a severed spine, officials have confirmed. The family says his voice box was crushed and his neck snapped.
Demonstrations over Gray's death had been largely peaceful until Saturday, when 35 people were arrested and six officers injured.
Afterward, Gray's twin sister, Fredericka Gray, called for peace. “My family wants to say, ‘Can y'all please, please stop the violence?'” she said. “Freddie Gray would not want this. Freddie's father and mother do not want any violence. Violence does not get justice.”
The Gray family repeated that plea at a news conference late Monday.
Earlier in the day, thousands of mourners gathered for Gray's televised funeral at a church. Rawlings-Blake attended, as did a representative of the White House, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, comedian and activist Dick Gregory, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Kweisi Mfume, formerly an NAACP leader and U.S representative from Maryland.
Screens on the church walls showed the words, “Black Lives Matter & All Lives Matter,” which have become slogans at demonstrations around the country since a white police officer shot to death an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo., in August. That case was followed by demonstrations over the deaths of African Americans at the hands of police in New York City; Cleveland; Tulsa, Okla.; and South Carolina.
“The eyes of this country are all on us, because they want to see whether we have the stuff to make this right,” William Murphy Jr., a lawyer who is representing the Gray family, told the mourners.
“We need justice not just for Freddie Gray, for the Freddie Grays to come,” he said.
Another mourner was Erica Garner, 24, daughter of Eric Garner, who died in New York police custody while gasping, “I can't breathe.” His arrest was videotaped by a bystander.
Erica Garner said she came to Baltimore after seeing video of Gray's arrest. “It's like there is no accountability, no justice,” she said. “It's like we're back in the '50s, back in the Martin Luther King days. When is our day to be free going to come?”
Hours later, on the city’s bitter streets, looting erupted at an East Baltimore shopping center called Church Square. Throngs of looters, mostly teenagers and young men, dashed into stores with an air of celebration and emerged with boxes of sneakers and armfuls of clothing.
“We are going to riot until we die,” one shouted.
Nearly an hour passed before police arrived.
Substitute teacher Loren Braswell urged restraint. “We got to think about what we’re doing here,” said Braswell, 53. “I love my city of Baltimore, but people got to think rationally and they’re not doing that right now.”
But if the officers who caused Gray’s death are not punished, Braswell said, “I think the city’s going to burn down.”
Times staff writers Matt Pearce and Michael Muskal in Los Angeles contributed to this report.