Over 15 police officers were injured – six seriously – and over 200 people were arrested as riots broke out in West Baltimore Monday following the funeral of Freddie Gray. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency in the city and requested that Maryland activate its National Guard. An additional 500 Maryland state troopers and 5,000 police officers from neighboring states were also called in to help bring peace to the escalating situation, the Baltimore Sun reports. “I have not made this decision lightly,” Hogan said. “The National Guard represents a last resort.”
Over a dozen buildings and nearly 150 vehicles were looted, destroyed and set ablaze as rioters took to the Baltimore streets following Gray’s death. On April 12th, Gray was arrested and taken into police custody for being in possession of a switchblade. At some point during his ride in the police vehicle, Gray suffered what police have called a “medical emergency” and soon slipped into a coma. Doctors determined that Gray’s spine was 80 percent severed and that he had a fractured vertebrae and other injuries, even though the original police report stated Gray was arrested without incident. Despite surgery, Gray died on April 19th.
It’s still unclear how Gray suffered his fatal injuries. According to the Guardian, Baltimore police said he was not secured with a seatbelt in a police van, violating breach of protocol. “It is not always possible or safe for officers to enter the rear of those transport vans that are very small, and this one was very small,” Michael Davey, an attorney representing one of the cops under investigation, told The Associated Press.
However, as the Baltimore Sun notes, there is still a 45-minute window where the actions surrounding Gray’s arrest remain unexplained. Baltimore police have declined to provide 911 and dispatch recordings around the arrest and injury. Police Commissioner Anthony Batts did admit, however, in a news conference that police were slow to administer medical attention to Gray. “We know our police employees failed to get him medical attention in a timely manner multiple times,” Batts said.
The unrest ended a week of mainly peaceful protests in Baltimore following Gray’s death, with authorities instructed to give protestors space to carry out their First Amendment right to avoid a situation akin to Ferguson, Missouri. However, compacted by Gray’s funeral on Monday, it’s believed the rioting began after word of a “purge” spread among Baltimore-area high school students on social media, the Baltimore Sun reports. The students’ actions were inspired by The Purge, a 2013 science-fiction film where all crimes are legal for a 12-hour period. Once school let out in Baltimore, the pandemonium started.
“We had gotten information yesterday that at Mondawmin Mall, we’re going to have a large ‘purge’ of high school students from across the city,” Batts said. “We had pretty close to about 250 to 300 police officers staged in or around Mondawmin Mall at the time the youth got out of school.” However, the police were immediately “overwhelmed” by the sheer number of students, CNN reports.
When confronted by police officers, the students threw rocks, cinder blocks and other objects at authorities, which ultimately sparked the riot. Over a dozen officers were injured as the looting spread into the mall; by nightfall, the riots had destroyed a CVS, a cellphone store, local businesses and dozens of vehicles including police cars. An in-construction senior living facility was also destroyed by a three-alarm fire, but it’s unclear whether that was ignited by protestors or an accident. Firefighters worked throughout the night putting out the flames, which totaled 144 vehicle fires and 15 structural fires according to the Baltimore mayor’s office.
In response to the riots, Baltimore’s mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced a weeklong, citywide 10 p.m. curfew. “Too many people have spent generations 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,” Rawlings-Blake said. Baltimore City Public Schools also cancelled all classes on Tuesday.
Gray’s own family also criticized the riots as violence in the city amplified. “I want y’all to get justice for my son, but don’t do it like this here,” Gray’s mother said. Gray’s twin sister Fredericka added, “I don’t think that’s for Freddie. I think the violence is wrong.”