Baltimore riots press urgency of situation

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National Guardsmen have joined Baltimore City Police to patrol East Monument Street. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Reaction to Friday’s announcement by Baltimore City States Attorney Marilyn Mosby that six city police officers have been charged in the death of Freddie Gray was mostly that of elation and relief. But in east Baltimore, along the battered business strip of East Monument Street — a section hit particularly hard by the Baltimore riots — the reactions were a surprising mix of measured delight and doubt.

Gary Thornton, 29, took the occasion to cheer Mosby’s decision to move forward with the case.

“I got what I was expecting. I’m just out here to get my voice heard. I’m 100 percent satisfied with the way Ms. Mosby handled the case and the way she’s going about it.”

Gary Thornton said he is happy with the decision to charge the officers.  (Anthony C. Hayes)
Gary Thornton said he is happy with the decision to charge the six officers. (Anthony C. Hayes)

When asked if he was also satisfied with the way the mayor has handled the crisis, Thornton replied, “Stephanie Rawlings-Blake? I think she’s not cut out for the job, and I think somebody else should just step up and take over. We shouldn’t have had to riot, to get this situation (with the police) under control. It’s something we go through every day with the police. And as far as the riot, it’s really a bad situation, because our own houses and neighborhood got destroyed. If we wouldn’t have gone through that, I’m quite sure, we wouldn’t have gotten any justice.”

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“I heard about the charges over the internet,” said Kay, 35. “I think it’s good, though it’s kind of bittersweet, because all the officers are not guilty. But I think that some of them that were involved were guilty, so it seemed like it’s still premature to charge all of them with the same conviction.

Kay told the Baltimore and Los Angeles Post-Examiner that, even though she lives far from where the rioting occurred, she was still affected because she works for the University of Maryland Medical System.

“They locked us down; we were at Code Yellow. There was a fire right adjacent to us on Friday. They set the whole Rite-Aid on fire.”

We asked Kay if she thought justice would prevail?

“I don’t know, because like I said before, it’s too premature. But I think they feel like they had to do something, because of the opportunists — people taking advantage of the situation. The people that were protesting, I think that was legitimate, but the other people were just opportunists. I think it’s more of a political decision than a legal decision.”

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“They tried to break into my shop; they busted into the gate but they didn’t get in,” reported one merchant, who asked that his name not be used. “Monday night was insanity, pure insanity. The police response was a little slow. I kind of hope justice will prevail but who knows? It’s tough to say.

A familiar sign on East Monument Street. (Anthony C. Hayes)
A familiar sign on East Monument Street. (Anthony C. Hayes)

“The one nice thing I can say, is that the day afterwards, everybody, no matter what color, nationality or race, came out, worked together to try to clean everything up. People from different ends of town came down, people from the neighborhood; everybody came out and worked to try to clean everything up and restore some kind of order.”

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“I worked for the Division of Criminal Justice for 18 years,” said Tammy Oliver, 64. “I was a paralegal working for a law firm in New Jersey, and I was with them for 31 years. What’s going to come out will be what is allowed to come out. Because politicians are crooked. I hate to say that, but you always got somebody with their hand in there, stirring up stuff. Will there be justice? Maybe yes, maybe no, but in either case, these asinine people down here are going to find some reason to go off, regardless of what the verdict may be.

“He (Freddie Gray) was doing wrong. C’mon. Things happen. Let the police do their thing. I’m not saying there’s not crooked ones, but violence doesn’t get anything. That’s the way I feel. I don’t want to be walking down the street, afraid somebody is going to come mug me, like they burned innocent people’s cars, burned down that senior citizen’s building. And they’re robbing all the Rite-Aids and the CVS’s just to get all the narcotics that they can get.

“What’s the point of burning down all the Rite-Aids and the CVS’s. I went to my doctor yesterday and then went over to Rite-Aid, where I like to go into when I’m there, and it’s all burnt down. Why destroy the area where you live at? Why destroy anything anyway? They just wanted a reason to loot, if you ask me. A reason to do stupid stuff without any consequences.”

The Rite Aid Pharmacy on North Avenue was just one of the targets of the looters. (Anthony C. Hayes)
The Rite-Aid Pharmacy on North Avenue was just one of the targets of the looters. (Anthony C. Hayes)

When asked about the response of police and the mayor, Oliver said, “These poor cops are trying to put out the fire; and here they are cutting the hose, and the police are ordered to stand down. And then they’re throwing bricks at the police and all that. I mean, c’mon. I think it’s stupid; it’s a shame the way these people act, like – I hate to say – animals. Destroy the area where they live, all behind somebody getting hurt and dying in police custody. Okay; that’s between that person and his family. These other people have nothing to do with it. That’s the way I feel.

“If I had anything to do with it, and I was in control, when all these people were all in a big crowd? I’d have had helicopters up above and these big fishing nets and dropped it on them! And took them and hung them by a crane! I’m serious, it’s not right what they’re doing. And then for the mayor to say, oh, we must have misunderstood what she said. The police department did? And everybody else that listened to you misunderstood what you said? Come on.”

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“I’m very disappointed in what’s going on. As far as the young people and everything, I’m glad everything is settled and everybody’s coming together and working together,” said Sonia, 52, proprietor of Sassy Clothing Store.

“I am confident justice will be done. Everybody was just going crazy, but at the time, there was a lot of things going through people’s minds.”

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For Cory Jones, 37, the charges stir a veritable cauldron of community conflict.

Baltimore City police on night duty at the War Memorial.  (Anthony C. Hayes)
Baltimore City police on night duty at the War Memorial. (Anthony C. Hayes)

“Just to cut right to the chase, the irony of it all is, to me, finally someone may be convicted. It’s just kind of sad that, at this time, for me, that two Black officers were involved. It seems like, prior to this, there was never anybody convicted of anything had they all been Caucasian. That’s my only issue, my only gripe – that we finally got something going toward what we would like it to go towards, but now there’s two Black officers involved. It’s kind of a bittersweet victory.”

Jones paused to consider the National Guard pressence and continued, “Now we’ve got guys standing on the corner with M-16’s. People’s children are outside. It’s like we’re living in Iraq. It’s unsettling for it to be happening on our soil, right? It’s not a good thing. I don’t have a military background, but I have a street background. But this is a whole other level than that.”

When asked if he thought justice would prevail, Jones replied, “I’m sure somebody’s going to be a scapegoat for this, somebody is going to take the fall, but it’s not going to be total justice for everybody.

“If you ask me, if there were six Caucasian officers involved, we wouldn’t be this far in the investigation, and we’d be having rioting right now. That’s what I believe. And it’s not because I have a distrust of white people, but I believe they take care of their own. That’s not a bad thing.”

Jones said he was on Monument Street late Monday night as the riot unfolded and termed the police response to the chaos as, “Terrible”.

“I’ve got video of them walking behind the riots, behind them. Not preventing anything. No preventive measures were taken to stop anything that happened on Monument Street. The mob came; they were behind them. And then they didn’t stop them. I have footage of it right here.

“I’m watching the looting. I’m right there filming. And I’m watching the police standing there; and when they decided that they didn’t want them to loot anymore, then they marked them and told them to move on, as if they were pushing them towards more looting. That’s what it looks like. If you cannot take preventative measures to stop people, then what are you doing? What are you even here for?”

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