Baltimore calm under heavy police, National Guard presence


Schools reopened across the city and tensions seemed to ease on Wednesday (Thursday NZT) after Baltimore made it through the first night of its curfew without the widespread violence many had feared, while activists vowed to continue calling for answers in the case of a black man whose death from a spinal-cord injury under mysterious circumstances while in police custody set off riots.

With 3000 police and National Guardsmen trying to keep the peace and prevent a repeat of the looting and arson that erupted on Monday (Tuesday NZT), the citywide, 10pm to 5am curfew ended with no reports of disturbances in the early morning hours.

Baltimore’s school system said all schools would be open and after-school sports and other activities would also take place. Monday’s riots began when high schools let out for the day and students clashed with police near a major bus transfer point.

Baltimore Orioles fans

Baltimore Orioles fans

Looting, fires and gunfire broke out overnight in Ferguson, Missouri, during protests triggered by Gray’s death in Baltimore. Ferguson was rocked by violence last year over the fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white police officer.

In Baltimore, the curfew was set to go back into effect at 10pm. And baseball officials – in what promised to be one of the weirdest spectacles in the sport’s history – announced that Wednesday’s (Thursday NZT) Baltimore Orioles game at Camden Yards would be closed to the public for safety reasons.

A few dozen protesters gathered outside the office of Baltimore’s top prosecutor to demand swift justice in the case of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man. Organisers say they are rallying in support of State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who took office in January and pledged during her campaign to address aggressive police practices.

Mosby’s office is expected to get a report from police on Friday (Saturday NZT). She will then face a decision on whether and how to pursue charges against the six police officers who arrested Gray.

The curfew got off to a not-so-promising start on Tuesday night (Wednesday NZT) when about 200 protesters ignored warnings from police and pleas from pastors and other community activists to disperse. Some threw water bottles or lay down on the ground.

A line of officers behind riot shields hurled tear gas canisters and fired pepper balls at the crowd, which dispersed in a matter of minutes.

Just before midnight Tuesday, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts declared the curfew a success.

“We do not have a lot of active movement throughout the city as a whole … Tonight I think the biggest thing is the citizens are safe, the city is stable,” he said. “We hope to maintain it that way.”

Batts said 10 people were arrested soon after the curfew went into effect: two for looting, one for disorderly conduct, and seven for violating the curfew.

In an interview broadcast on Wednesday (Thursday NZT) on “The Steve Harvey Morning Show,” President Barack Obama said the riots show that police departments need to build more trust in black communities.

He called on police departments “to hold accountable people when they do something wrong” and said Attorney General Loretta Lynch is reaching out to mayors about retraining police and providing body cameras.

The president also said underlying problems such as poor education, drugs and limited job opportunities must be addressed.