Baltimore rioting quietens down after curfew

Riot police in the US city of Baltimore enforced a curfew into the early hours of Wednesday and called it a success, emptying streets scarred by a spasm of rioting and looting.

The officers were joined by National Guards as they manned security lines with armored vehicles on streets that saw widespread violence Monday and gave a new focus to a national debate over how American police treat young black men.

The northeastern US city, which has high unemployment and pockets of severe poverty, was reported quiet overnight.

Earlier, as the clear-the-streets order took effect at 10:00 pm, a crowd of several hundred people faced off against police in riot gear.

The nighttime curfew officially ended at 5 am (0900 GMT). It is to go on every night for another week.

Tensions remained high Wednesday.

In a move believed to be unprecedented in American baseball history, the local team, the Orioles, were to play the Chicago Cubs Wednesday evening in an empty stadium. Officials cited security concerns.

At the standoff on Tuesday, defiant protesters, mainly young black men, threw bottles and other projectiles at the security forces.

Police eventually fired smoke bombs and pepper pellets, dispersing the crowd.

Still, the scene was a far cry from the heavy rioting and looting Monday in which gangs of youths torched buildings and cars and ransacked shops in poor areas of the port city of 620,000.

“The curfew is in fact working. Citizens are safe. The city is stable,” Police Commissioner Anthony Batts told a midnight news conference.

A total of 10 people were arrested, seven of them for curfew violation, he added. That compared to more than 250 on Monday.

The Baltimore Sun newspaper reported later that a police officer was injured by a crowd throwing rocks and bricks. This could not be immediately confirmed.

After midnight, after stinging gas clouds forced protesters to disperse, the streets were largely clear.

TV footage showed that one intersection that was ground zero of Monday’s mayhem was deserted but for police and other security forces.

— Obama speaks out–

Nervous authorities imposed the emergency night-time curfew at 10:00 pm (0200 GMT Wednesday) in a bid to stave off more violence.

National Guard troops were deployed to back up police in the gritty port city where the unrest erupted Monday after the funeral of a 25-year-old African-American man, Freddie Gray, who died after suffering severe spinal injuries during an arrest earlier this month.

Earlier in the day, President Barack Obama condemned Monday’s rioting. But he warned that incidents in recent months “raise troubling questions” about the policing of black communities in the United States.

Last year’s fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, triggered coast-to-coast protests.

“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.

– Distrust –

“I think there are police departments that have to do some soul-searching,” added Obama, the first black president of the United States.

“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.”

Monday’s violence saw stores looted, more than 140 vehicles burned, 20 police wounded and more than 250 suspects arrested.

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 (Tuesday) we will have 2,000 National Guardsmen and over one thousand law enforcement officers on duty,” Hogan later told reporters.

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 young black suspects.

Six officers have been suspended.

Volunteer clean-up teams hit the streets Tuesday and residents spoke of their terror after 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, a Baltimore resident, told AFP.

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.”

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