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Baltimore riots prompt state of emergency after Freddie Gray funeral

Baltimore erupted in violence as hundreds of rioters looted stores, set buildings on fire and injured at least 15 police officers following the funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died after he was injured in police custody.

Mayor calls rioters 'thugs' trying to destroy 'what so many have fought for'

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      Baltimore erupted in violence on Monday as hundreds of rioters looted stores, set buildings on fire and injured at least 15 police officers following the funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died after he was injured in police custody.

      The riots broke out just a few blocks from the funeral of Freddie Gray and then spread through much of West Baltimore in the most violent U.S. demonstrations since looting in Ferguson, Mo, last year.

      As night fell in Baltimore, fires from damage to property and vehicles inflicted earlier in the day continued to burn. Here pours fuel onto a smouldering car. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)
      Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard as firefighters battled blazes set by looters and rioters with baseball bats smashed windows of cars and businesses.

      Hogan said at a Monday evening news conference that what started out as a peaceful protest expressing legitimate concerns about how Gray died and how police handled his arrest had turned ugly with the help of "outside agitators" and no longer had anything to do with the earlier expressions of outrage over Gray's death.

      "This is lawless gangs of thugs causing damage to property and injuring innocent people," Hogan said. "We're not going to tolerate that."

      Firefighters battle a blaze at a newly constructed seniors centre in Baltimore. Rioters set fire to buildings and vehicles during Monday's chaos. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)
      Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake earlier announced a citywide curfew that would be imposed Tuesday from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and last a week. The only exceptions will be medical emergencies or people heading to work.

      "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," Rawlings-Blake said in a Tuesday evening news conference.  

      5,000 additional officers requested

      Rawlings-Blake said "every resource possible" would be deployed to gain control of the situation. The state police requested 5,000 additional law enforcement officers to help get the situation under control.

      Rioters in Baltimore damaged vehicles, ransacked stores and set fires after violent clashes between young demonstrators and police erupted following the funeral of Freddie Gray, who died from a spinal injury sustained in police custody. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)
      The riots broke out around 4:30 p.m. ET after the funeral for Gray, who died on April 19 from a spinal injury after being arrested and transported in police van a week before.

      They soon spread to other parts of the city of 662,000 people 64 kilometres from the U.S. capital. By 6:30 p.m. ET, a CVS pharmacy that had been looted was on fire and police, who initially showed restrained, moved to arrest some of those ransacking businesses and damaging vehicles and property.

      Police said 15 officers were injured in the riots and two remained in hospital Monday evening. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
      The riots forced the closure of schools, businesses and train stations and the cancellation of an Orioles baseball game scheduled for Monday evening.

      Fifteen officers were injured, police said, and two remained in hospital Monday evening. Police had vowed earlier in the day to arrest those who "without provocation attacked our police officers" but would not say Monday evening exactly how many people had been arrested.

      Gray's family late Monday condemned the violence.

      "I think the violence is wrong," said Fredericka Gray, his sister. "I don't like it at all."

      'Opportunists'

      Rawlings-Blake and local councillors condemned the notion that the rioters had anything to do with earlier peaceful protests in support of Gray.

      "It is idiotic to think that by destroying your city you're going to make life better for anybody," the mayor said.

      Police were initially restrained, but as the riots escalated, they brought out pepper spray and tear gas and moved to arrest those who they said were attacking officers 'without provocation.' (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
      City council president Jack Young called the rioters "opportunists" and said many of them did not live in the neighbourhoods they were ransacking.

      "These are thugs who are seizing upon an opportunity," he said.

      "This is unacceptable. This is not what Freddie Gray's family wanted."

      President Barack Obama was briefed on the violence in Baltimore by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and spoke with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

      Hogan said he had spoken with Obama and that the president "endorsed the action we're taking tonight." He said the attorney general, who was sworn in on Monday, would be coming to Baltimore.

      "I condemn the senseless acts of violence by some individuals in Baltimore that have resulted in harm to law enforcement officers, destruction of property and a shattering of the peace in the city of Baltimore," Lynch said in a statement.

      "I will bring the full resources of the Department of Justice to bear in protecting those under threat, investigating wrongdoing, and securing an end to violence."

      Rioters sack businesses, burn vehicles

      Smoke billows from a CVS Pharmacy in Baltimore where looting had occurred earlier Monday afternoon. (Juliet Linderman/Associated Press)
      Police spokesman Eric Kowalczyk said earlier in the day that the riot began when youths began pelting a city bus and police vehicles with stones near the Mondawmin Mall in northwest Baltimore, just a few blocks from the site of the Gray funeral. Not long after, a large group of people spread out over "a pretty significant area."

      Some demonstrators carried signs reading "Justice 4 Freddie Gray," but many said the riots had little to do with Gray or what his family wanted.

      "It is disappointing just a few hours after putting Gray to rest," said Reverend Jamal Bryant, who spoke at the funeral. "This is not what the family asked for today of all days. This was a day of sacred closure."

      Kowalczyk had warned earlier in the day that police would use "appropriate methods to ensure that we're able to preserve the safety of that community," including tear gas and pepper balls.

      The Baltimore Police Department's Twitter feed provided regular updates of the movements of the protesters, who, police said, were damaging vehicles and property, setting cars on cutting firehoses being used to put out a fire.

      Many of the tweets described rioters as "aggressive and violent."

      Earlier in the day, Kowalczyk described the instigators of the violence as "lawless individuals with no regard for the safety of the people that live in the community."

      Get out and defend your neighbourhood, councillor urges

      ​Councillor Brandon M. Scott also dismissed the rioters as thugs and urged the city's upstanding citizens to "get out there and stand tall and stand up for your neighbourhood."

      "I am simply pissed off," he said at a joint press conference with the mayor. "This is the city that I love. This is the city that I chose to dedicate my life to. We cannot stand idle and let thugs, whatever you want to call them, I don't even say they're thugs – we're just going to call them cowards – ruin our city.

      "If you are an adult and you're out there participating in this, you are ruining the future for these young people."

      Young men carry away looted items from a CVS Pharmacy, one of several Baltimore businesses ransacked and looted Monday. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)
      Gray's death has led to days of protests in the latest outcry over U.S. law enforcement's treatment of minorities.

      Gray's family, pastors and city officials had pleaded for peaceful demonstrations after some arrests and injuries at protests over the weekend.

      Speaker after speaker before the crowd packing the 2,500-seat New Shiloh Baptist Church said the world was watching to see if justice would be done for Gray.

      With files from CBC News

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