Riot erupts after Gray funeral

Published: Tuesday 28th April 2015 by The News Editor

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Rioters plunged Baltimore into chaos, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers hours after thousands mourned a man who died from a spinal injury he suffered in police custody.

The governor declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard to restore order.

Seven officers were hurt, some with broken bones, and one was unresponsive, said Captain Eric Kowalczyk.

Officers wearing helmets and wielding shields occasionally used pepper spray to keep the rioters back. For the most part, though, they relied on line formations.

The riot was the latest flare-up over the mysterious death of Freddie Gray, whose fatal encounter with officers came amid the national debate over police use of force, especially when black suspects are involved. Mr Gray was African-American.

Emergency officials were constantly thwarted as they tried to restore calm. Firefighters trying to put out a blaze at a drug store were hindered by someone who sliced holes in a hose connected to a fire hydrant, spraying water all over the street and nearby buildings.

The smell of burned rubber wafted in the air in one neighbourhood where youths were looting an off licence. Police stood still nearby as people drank looted alcohol. Glass and rubbish littered the streets, and small fires were scattered about.

Mr Gray’s family were shocked by the violence and were lying low. They hoped to organise a peace march later in the week, said family lawyer Billy Murphy. He said they did not know the riot was going to happen and urged calm.

“They don’t want this movement nationally to be marred by violence,” he said. “It makes no sense.”

Police urged parents to locate their children and bring them home. Many of those on the streets appeared to be African-American youths, wearing backpacks and khaki pants that are a part of many public school uniforms.

Many who had never met Mr Gray gathered earlier in the day in a Baltimore church to bid him farewell and press for more accountability among law enforcement.

The 2,500-capacity New Shiloh Baptist church was filled with mourners. But even the funeral could not ease mounting tensions.

Police said while the funeral was under way the department had received a “credible threat” that three notoriously violent gangs were now working together to “take out” law enforcement officers.

A small group of mourners started queueing up about two hours ahead of yesterday’s funeral.

Placed on top of Mr Gray’s body was a white pillow with a screened picture of him. A projector aimed at two screens on the walls showed the words: “Black Lives Matter & All Lives Matter.”

With the Rev Jesse Jackson sitting behind him, the Rev Jamal Bryant gave a rousing and spirited eulogy for Mr Gray, a message that received a standing ovation from the crowded church.

He said Mr Gray’s death would spur further protests, and he urged those in the audience to join: “Freddie’s death is not in vain. After this day, we’re going to keep on marching. After this day, we’re going to keep demanding justice.”

Mr Gray was arrested after making eye contact with officers and then running away, police said. He was held down, handcuffed and loaded into a van without a seat belt. Leg cuffs were put on him when he became irate inside.

He asked for medical help several times even before being put in the van, but paramedics were not called until after a 30-minute ride.

Police have acknowledged he should have received medical attention on the spot where he was arrested, but they have not said how his spine was injured.

Published: Tuesday 28th April 2015 by The News Editor

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