On reading the news this morning, you could be forgiven for blearily wondering if they’d accidentally reprinted one of those stories that last year briefly turned Ferguson, Missouri, into a household name.
Unfortunately, you’d have been wrong. Protests have broken out in yet another US city following the death of a young black man. This time, it was Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old who died from spinal injuries in police custody on 12 April.
He had been arrested that day near his home, though police have not disclosed what he was charged with. And, as in the case of Eric Garner, the teenager who died in a police chokehold in New York City last July, cellphone footage of the arrest has convinced protesters that Gray was mishandled and injured by police.
Protests have rippled through the city since Gray’s death, but came to a head yesterday outside his funeral in northwest Baltimore. Residents began throwing bottles and rocks at police officers who turned up for the event in riot gear. From there, events spiralled out of control: on one side, arson, rock-throwing, and looting; on the other, pepper spray. The New York Times is reporting that 15 police officers were injured, and that the National Guard have been called in.
Baltimore schools are closed today, and a week-long 10pm-5am curfew has been introduced by the mayor. As in Ferguson and New York, the protests are rallying under a hashtag. It’s more direct than both #BlackLivesMatter and #ICan’tBreathe: Baltimore is asking for #JusticeOrElse.
While the actions of the police officers concerned are currently under investigation, the response to protesting residents from city and state administrators has been stern and unforgiving. Today, Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said:
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… It is idiotic to think that by destroying your city that you’re going to make life better for anybody.
Meanwhile Larry Hogan, governor of Maryland, proudly reported that when President Obama urged him to ask police to exercise restraint with the protesters, he “assured him we weren’t going to stand by and allow our city of Baltimore to be taken over by thugs”.
John Angelos, chief operating officer of the Orioles, Baltimore’s baseball team, responded on Twitter to complaints about the protests’ disruption of the community by gesturing to the wider situation for minorities and the poor in the US:
We need to keep in mind [that] people are suffering and dying around the US, and while we are thankful no one was injured… there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic, civil, and legal rights… This makes inconvenience… irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.
Until city and state governments see fit to investigate the causes of discontent and violence, rather than brush them aside, then it seems history is doomed to repeat itself.
Here are some pictures of yesterday’s protests.
Protesters stand on police car. Image: Getty.
A man faces police by a looted CVS pharmacy. Image: Getty.
A young man throws a rock at police. Image: Getty.
Broken glass in a bus stop. Image: Getty.
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