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BALTIMORE, USA – National Guard troops deployed to prevent another night of violence in Baltimore on Tuesday, April 27, as US President Barack Obama warned recent incidents “raise troubling questions” about the policing of black communities.
Violence and looting erupted in Baltimore on Monday after the funeral of 25-year-old African-American man Freddie Gray, who died after suffering severe spinal injuries during a police arrest.
On Tuesday, protest marches – and sporadic, low-level confrontations – continued, but there was no initial sign of a return to widespread violence as an overnight curfew approached.
Speaking in nearby Washington, Obama condemned the rioting, but also said that a series of recent incidents – beginning last year with the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri – was worrying.
“Since Ferguson… we have seen too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals – primarily African American, often poor – in ways that raise troubling questions,” the president said.
Obama expressed sympathy for civil rights leaders and protesters – as well as for police on the front line of demonstrations – and said America needed to address the strained ties between officers and blacks.
He said it was essential that “we don’t just pay attention to these communities when a CVS (store) burns. And we don’t just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped.
“I think there are police departments that have to do some soul-searching.
“I think there’s some communities that have to do some soul-searching. I think we as a country have to do some soul-searching. This is not new. It’s been going on for decades.”
In Baltimore, thousands of military and police reinforcements swarmed onto the streets after a night of unrest saw stores looted, more than 140 vehicles burned, 20 police wounded and more than 250 suspects arrested.
There were tense scenes when noisy supporters faced off against police lines. Police made arrests and pepper spray was deployed at least once.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan inspected a National Guard barricade and vowed to “make sure what happened last night in Baltimore City is not going to happen again.”
“Tonight we will have 2,000 National Guardsmen and over one thousand law enforcement officers on duty,” he later told reporters.
Baltimore has declared an overnight curfew from 10 pm Tuesday (0200 GMT Wednesday, April 29), to be in force for a week, and local and national leaders have appealed for calm.
The initial trigger for the violence came after a dignified service for Gray, who died a week after his spine was all but severed as he was detained by city police.
An investigation has been launched into the cause of his injuries, but many see the incident as only the latest example of police brutality against black suspects.
Gray’s family also pleaded for calm, but tempers boiled over as young, mainly African-American men pelted police with stones and ransacked businesses.
Distrust of police
Volunteer clean-up teams hit the streets Tuesday and residents spoke of their terror as gangs roamed the streets fighting police and destroying property.
“It was horrific to the point where my children were actually crying, trying to get back to the house, because there was so much going on,” Latania Graham told Agence France-Presse.
Many condemned the rioters, but also spoke of their distrust of police.
Department store clerk and Baltimore native Aretha Williams, 45, speaking in front of a line of mostly white police officers in riot gear, said: “I think that a lot of the police are racist… they get a license to kill by becoming a police officer.”
A 68-year-old retiree who gave his name as Clarence said he hadn’t seen Baltimore so tense since the riots of 1968, when 6 people were killed, 700 injured and much of the downtown area razed.
“The police brutality. That’s sad. You have a man handcuffed. You don’t beat him,” he said. “You’ve got some good ones out there. But it seems like it’s getting worse.”
Baltimore schools were closed on Tuesday as a safety measure, although some residents worried that this would lead to more restless teenagers on the tense streets.
The Orioles, the city’s baseball team, cancelled games against Chicago’s White Sox on Monday, April 27, and again on Tuesday. Wednesday’s game will be played behind closed doors.
Last year’s fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson triggered coast-to-coast protests.
Lawyers for Gray’s family say his death was caused by injuries sustained following his arrest. He lost consciousness in custody, and died within a week.
Six officers have been suspended pending the outcome of a police investigation that is to be submitted to state prosecutors by Friday, May 1. – Michael Mathes, AFP / Rappler.com