Baltimore Brings In National Guard After Clashes Between Protestors and Police

Troops from the US national guard began rolling into Baltimore in armored vehicles after violent clashes, looting and fires led city authorities to declare a week-long curfew banning people from the streets at night.

At least 27 people were arrested after intense rioting broke out following the funeral service for Freddie Gray, a young black man who died last week of injuries sustained after his arrest. Fifteen police officers were injured in Monday night’s unrest, six of them seriously, according to chiefs.

Young people began hurling bricks and bottles at police in riot gear soon after Gray was buried in the afternoon. Shops in the Mondawmin mall were looted and police cars were set on fire and smashed – one while an officer remained seated inside.

“This is not protesting, this is not your first amendment rights, this is just criminal activity,” said police commissioner Anthony Batts, declaring he was “supremely disappointed in what’s happened in our beautiful city”.

Repeatedly condemning the rioters as “thugs”, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said a city-wide curfew between 10pm and 5am would be imposed for a week beginning on Tuesday night.

As the chaotic scenes unfolded there was an appeal for calm from Gray’s family. “I think the violence is wrong,” his twin sister, Fredericka, said late on Monday.

Gray, 25, died in hospital on 19 April, a week after he sustained a broken neck and lapsed into a coma. He had been arrested a week earlier, having been chased by officers for “catching the eye” of a lieutenant and running away. A knife was found in his pocket. Six officers have been suspended and a criminal inquiry into Gray’s death is under way.

His funeral on Monday was followed by violent scenes. Crowds were shot at by police using teargas grenades, so-called “less lethal” bullets and pepper balls, which explode to release an irritant.

Passersby and reporters were among those struck. At least one officer was seen throwing a brick back at protesters.

Maryland governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency, activating the state’s 5,000 national guard personnel with an executive order declaring the need “to protect the lives and property of citizens”. Batts said the troops would protect buildings. President Barack Obama was briefed on the crisis in Washington by Loretta Lynch, his new attorney general.

As night fell several fires burned across the city. In one instance firefighters trying to extinguish a blaze at a pharmacy were set back by a rioter with a knife who slashed a hose connected to a hydrant.

In east Baltimore flames engulfed a construction project due to become a 60-unit building to house low-income elderly people. City authorities said it was unclear whether the fire was linked to the riots.

Baltimore’s authorities announced that the public school system would be closed on Tuesday, leaving more than 80,000 students without classes to attend amid an atmosphere of seething discontentment with police and the city administration.

Struggling to keep up with events, Mayor Rawlings-Blake said at her own press conference: “I am at a loss for words … It is idiotic to think that by destroying your city you’re going to make life better for anybody.”

Police had put the city on alert earlier on Monday after claiming to have intelligence of a violent threat. Batts explained late in the evening police understood the Bloods, Crips and Black Guerilla Family gangs had met and each pledged to kill a police officer.

However the unrest appeared instead to have been sparked by a younger crowd of high school students left milling around the neighborhood near the site of Gray’s funeral by the cancellation of public transport.

“They thought it was cute to throw cinder blocks at police,” said Batts.

The rioting on Monday night followed scattered vandalism and looting after peaceful protests on Saturday.

Gray’s case is the latest flashpoint for demonstrators who accuse American police of killing young black men without justification. Cellphone video footage showed him being dragged into the police van while yelling in pain. One of his legs appeared limp. However police have indicated his neck was broken after this point, while declining to provide details.

Police chiefs admitted officers failed to provide Gray with medical attention despite his requests and failed to seatbelt him in the van. Past prisoners in Baltimore have described “rough rides” in which police vehicles are seemingly deliberately driven erratically to injure passengers.

Gray travelled with his hands cuffed behind his back and his legs in restraints. A second man was collected by the van during the journey. The man, whose name has not been released, is said to have given police an account of what he saw inside the vehicle.

Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential hopeful, said in a tweet she was “praying for peace and safety” for all in Baltimore. Clinton described Gray’s death as “a tragedy that demands answers”.

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