Baltimore uneasily awaits answers on the death of Freddie Gray
Baltimore remained on edge on Wednesday, with police in riot gear deployed near the site of a wave of rioting as citizens expressed anger over the death of a black man after his arrest by local police.
The city had a less violent night on Tuesday, the first day a new overnight curfew took effect following Monday’s rioting, which saw buildings and cars burned as looters clashed with police.
The smell of smoke hung in the air near a West Baltimore CVS pharmacy that was torched two days earlier, while area residents said they wanted to see legal action against the six police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray, 25, two weeks earlier.
“The thing that makes me angry about this is he didn’t do anything,” said landscaper Levi Artes, 45, as he stood near a transit station. “He didn’t sell any drugs, he wasn’t fighting with anyone, he just tried to avoid the police.
“If I killed somebody, I’d be in jail now.”
Gray died in a Baltimore hospital on April 19 of spinal injuries sustained while he was in police custody. He had been arrested after fleeing from police in a high-crime area and was carrying a switchblade knife.
Gray’s death has renewed a national movement against law enforcement’s use of lethal force, which protesters say is disproportionately exercised against minorities. Protests flared after police killed unarmed black men last year in Ferguson, Missouri; New York City and elsewhere.
Baltimore Police have said they will conclude their investigation by the end of the week, when the results will be turned over to state prosecutors and followed by an independent review.
“The six officers should be arrested and jailed,” said Gray’s friend Ashley Cain, who is 19 years old and unemployed.
The U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a separate probe into possible civil rights violations in the city of 620,000 people.
Schools reopened on Wednesday after the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew was lifted. The city’s Major League Baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles, was set to play on Wednesday, though in a rare move, no fans would be admitted to the stadium.
‘CURFEW IS … WORKING’
Shortly after the curfew began late on Tuesday night, police in riot gear fired rubber bullets and lobbed gas canisters at a few hundred protesters who stood in front of the burned-out pharmacy in the city just 40 miles (64 km) from Washington.
Commissioner Anthony Batts told reporters around midnight only 10 people had been arrested, adding: “The curfew is in fact working.”
In Chicago on Tuesday, 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.
St. Louis media reported that two people were injured overnight following gunfire in nearby Ferguson during a protest near where unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot dead by police last August. It was not clear if the shootings were linked or connected to the demonstration.
Monday’s rioting in Baltimore followed a week of largely peaceful protests in the city, where almost a quarter of the residents live below the poverty line, with demonstrators demanding answers in Gray’s death.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she acted cautiously on Monday to avoid a heavy-handed response that would incite violence.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will discuss the violent protests in Baltimore and call for reform in the U.S. justice system, including the use of body cameras by police across the country, in a speech in New York on Wednesday.
The neighborhood that saw the worst of the violence was already filled with many burned-out buildings and vacant lots that had not been rebuilt since the 1968 riots that followed the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Residents said relations with police had long been strained, with Gray’s death a flashpoint.
“They’re supposed to protect and serve, but they harass us,” said 20-year-old community college student Dayrick Lucas. “I’m afraid of the police.”
(Additional reporting by Warren Strobel; Editing by W Simon and Lisa Von Ahn)