News of the violence and looting in Baltimore overshadowed a funeral held for 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died last week after being arrested by police. (WBAL-TV photo)
Gang members and ministers met late into the night on Monday to discuss plans for bringing an end to an afternoon of rioting, looting and arson that lasted for hours on the streets of Baltimore.
The day started with an ominous warning issued by the Baltimore Police Department claiming rival gang members had set aside their differences and “entered into a partnership” with the intention of harming a police officer.
In a press release, Baltimore police said the threat was “credible” and based on information that had been gathered by the department’s Criminal Intelligence Unit. Police specifically identified three rival gangs — the “Bloods,” the “Crips” and the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) — among those responsible for the threat.
It was unclear if the threat was related to arrest of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Baltimore man who died one week after sustaining a medical emergency during his arrest on April 12. Gray, who was heard on various cellphone videos captured by eyewitnesses pleading with officers for medical attention, slipped into a coma within one hour of his arrest and ultimately died from complications related to a spinal cord injury.
Questions have been lingering over how police handled Gray’s arrest, with members of the community alleging officers contributed to the man’s death by using excessive force. Last week, Police Commissioner Anthony Batts admitted police made mistakes in how they handled the arrest, including officers failing to harness Gray into the police van using a seat belt and failing to get Gray medical attention when it was requested.
Tensions appeared to reach a boiling point Monday after a group of high school-aged youth confronted police officers with rocks and bricks near a mall in downtown Baltimore. But within hours, it became clear the Gray’s death was used as an opportunity for hundreds of juveniles to wreak havoc and mayhem on Baltimore’s city streets; the end result would be hours of looting, vandalism and arson.
By evening, police said 15 officers had sustained injuries, including two that required hospitalization. Police also said dozens of arrests had been made, although the exact number of arrests was not known as of late Monday.
City officials were quick to distance earlier, peaceful demonstrations that focused on Gray’s death and police reform from the afternoon and evening of mayhem. At a press conference Monday evening, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called those who participated in the riot “thugs who only want to incite violence and destroy our city.”
Rawlings-Blake announced a curfew set to begin Tuesday evening for all residents. Baltimore already has a curfew for minors that requires children under the age of 14 to be off city streets by 9 p.m.
In addition, the mayor requested a state of emergency declared for the city of Baltimore. Gov. Larry Hogan said it took him no longer than 30 seconds to honor the mayor’s request, which automatically activates the state’s National Guard. Soldiers began arriving on the streets of Baltimore early Tuesday morning, and as many as 5,000 reservists could be called up to help stabilize the situation in the city.
“I have not made this decision lightly,” Hogan said at a press briefing. “The National Guard represents a last resort in order to restore order.”
Some community officials did not wait for the troops to arrive: At a nearby church, more than 70 ministers met with dozens of self-professed members of local street gangs to figure out how to restore order to the city on their own. In an interview broadcast by NBC affiliate WBAL-TV, members of the Bloods and BGF gangs denied accusations that they had called a “truce” in order to harm police officers, and said they were on the front lines Monday to prevent violence and looting.
“I don’t agree with what’s going on, but I understand what’s going on,” one gang member said. “I understand why people are mad, but we have to handle things another way.”
News of the violence in Baltimore overshadowed a funeral held for Gray that had taken place earlier in the day. Members of Gray’s family said they were appalled by the mayhem that proliferated throughout Baltimore following the funeral on Monday.
“I want you all to get justice for my son,” said Gray’s mother Gloria Darden. “But don’t do it like this.”