Baltimore deals with devastation, nation with hard questions

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As the sun came up in Baltimore Tuesday morning, the damage left behind by violent riots could be clearly seen. Buildings were burned and stores were destroyed. Protests started over the death of a black man, Freddie Gray, in police custody. VPC.

Scattered protests and a massive cleanup were underway Tuesday as the city braced for whatever comes next after a long night of violence.

The governor and mayor promised increased security. And President Obama promised a thorough investigation into the death in police custody of Freddie Gray. Obama also said economic and cultural problems must be addressed to fully solve the problem of violence on streets here and across the nation.

Still, he stressed, that’s no excuse for the violence.

“When individuals get crowbars and start opening doors to loot, they’re not protesting,” Obama said in response to a query at a White House news conference. “They’re not making a statement. They are stealing. When they burn down a building they are committing arson. And they are destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities.”

In Baltimore, schools were closed, streets were quiet but wreckage was everywhere as a solemn Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake toured the destruction.

“We will not let these deplorable and cowardly acts of violence ruin our city,” Rawlings-Blake tweeted. “I sincerely want to thank all those out there cleaning up streets and sharing their love for #OurCity. Thank you, Baltimore!,”

Hours after Freddie Gray was laid to rest Monday, protests ostensibly against police violence quickly deteriorated into devastating riots. Roving bands of mostly young looters, some armed with crowbars, roamed the city, hurling rocks at police, destroying patrol cars, smashing store windows and torching buildings.

About 20 businesses and more than 140 cars burned as the mayhem spilled into Tuesday’s early hours. From 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., the city’s Office of Emergency Management reported 10 major blazes.

“Please allow members of the fire department to respond to their calls for service,” the police tweeted at 2 a.m. “We are still hearing reports of them being assaulted.”

Later Tuesday, residents swept glass and debris from battered sidewalks and streets while National Guard members stood sentry.

“I wanted to talk to the people who are desperate for better in Baltimore,” Rawlings-Blake said outside a severely damaged CVS store. “What happened last night made sure more people have needs and more people are struggling.”

 Residents of Baltimore are dealing with the damage left behind by rioters who looted stores and set buildings on fire after Freddie Gray was laid to rest. Gray suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody. VPC

Rawlings-Blake, who called the rioters “thugs,” dismissed claims that she waited too long to send in a heavy police and National Guard presence. She cited a “delicate balancing act” between managing the problem and making it worse.

“It is very important that we respond to the situation as it is on the ground,” she said. “There are always going to be armchair quarterbacks who have never sat in my seat.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also toured parts of the city Tuesday. He said the violence began at about 3 p.m. Monday, but added that the National Guard did not enter the fray until asked by the mayor three hours later.

He said a “couple thousand” guard members and city police were patrolling the city, and that another 1,000 guard members would be in the city by Tuesday night.

“The vast majority of the people in Baltimore who were protesting did so in a peaceful way, but unfortunately a smaller group of people acted out in a violent way,” Hogan said. “What happened last night is not going to happen tonight.”

Almost 200 arrests were made and more than a dozen police officers were injured, Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said, adding that he believed tensions were easing. Still, authorities ordered 10 p.m. curfews for the rest of the week.

Source: USA Today

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