Riots continue in Baltimore

by Vinnie Rotondaro

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Riots continued in Baltimore Monday over the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suffered a spinal cord injury earlier this month during an arrest by “Charm City” police. 

According to the Baltimore Sun, “a large group of juveniles and police in riot gear clashed near Mondawmin Mall on Monday afternoon, while numerous downtown institutions and businesses closed early out of fears of violence."

“Police responded with shields and a tactical vehicle as they were pelted with rocks and bottles. Several officers were injured in the melee, police said via Twitter.”

The riots began this Saturday, the day of Gray’s funeral, when peaceful protests erupted into chaos. Stores were looted and damaged in the melee. Several police officers have been injured since the riots began, according to news reports.

The riots flow into a now years-long progression of anger and rage brewing over the deaths of unarmed people of color at the hands of police officers. 

In December, a group of influential Catholic theologians responded to the outrage, calling for "police reform and racial justice" in America.

"The killings of Black men, women and children by White policemen,” their statement read, “and the failures of the grand jury process to indict the police officers involved, have brought to our attention not only problems in law enforcement today, but also the deeper racial injustice in our nation, our communities, and even our churches."

According to the Baltimore Sun, many particulars regarding Gray’s death remain unknown

"When Freddie Gray briefly locked eyes with police at 8:39 a.m. on a corner of an impoverished West Baltimore neighborhood two weeks ago,” the Sun reports, “they seemed to recognize each other immediately. 

“As three officers approached on bicycles along West North Avenue, the 25-year-old Gray was on the east corner of North Mount Street chatting with a friend, according to Shawn Washington, who frequents the block.”

"Ay, yo, here comes Time Out," a young man on the opposite corner yelled, using a neighborhood term for police.

Gray swore, taking off on foot as the officers began hot-stepping on their pedals to catch up. One officer jumped off his bike to chase Gray on foot, police said.

"That was the last time I seen that man moving," said Washington, 48.

Investigators with the city police and other agencies are still trying to recreate the events of the next 45 minutes, during which Gray sustained a severe and ultimately fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody.

But in its own investigation, The Baltimore Sun found that police missed the opportunity to examine some evidence that could have shed light on events. For example, by the time police canvassed one neighborhood looking for video from security cameras, a convenience store camera pointed at a key intersection had already taped over its recordings of that morning.

The Sun also found that accounts from residents conflicted with the official version of events, including a police account that Gray's arrest was made "without force or incident."

The reason Gray was chased by police remains unclear. Police have said it came in part because he ran, raising officers' suspicions in an area known for drug dealing. A police report on the arrest states that Gray "fled unprovoked" and that an illegal switchblade knife was later found on him but provides no other reason for the pursuit.

Community outrage over the arrest has been fueled by videos showing Gray — listed on the police report at 5-foot-8 and 145 pounds — on the ground before being dragged to the police van. 

Neighborhood residents and police agree that the videos don't show the whole story, though.

Kevin Moore, a 28-year-old friend of Gray's from Gilmor Homes, said he rushed outside when he heard Gray was being arrested and saw him "screaming for his life" with his face planted on the ground. One officer had his knee on Gray's neck, Moore said, and another was bending his legs backward.

"They had him folded up like he was a crab or a piece of origami," Moore said. "He was all bent up."

Gray, who had asthma, and was reportedly denied an inhaler, later died. 

Baltimore is a rapidly gentrifying city with a history of intergenerational poverty. It is where the influential HBO series The Wire, which dramatized the city's law enforcement, crime, poverty and inequality, was setIt is also where the U.S. bishops hold their annual fall gathering

[Vinnie Rotondaro is NCR national correspondent. His email address is]

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