What’s Happening In Baltimore Didn’t Just Start With Freddie Gray – Huffington Post

This week’s chaos on the streets of Baltimore has been decades in the making.

Violence erupted in the city on Monday after days of largely peaceful protests over the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who recently died of injuries he sustained while in police custody. But Gray’s death was just the latest point on a timeline stretching back generations, one that encompasses all manner of racial inequity and human indignity.

On April 6, 1968, just two days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., riots broke out in Baltimore. When the dust settled on April 7, three people were dead, 70 were injured and more than 100 had been arrested, and numerous buildings were burned and destroyed, according to Baltimore magazine.

The Maryland Crime Investigating Commission Report of the Baltimore Civil Disturbance of April 6 to April 11, 1968 later summed up the event in a few sentences that could have easily been written yesterday:

[S]ocial and economic conditions in the looted areas constituted a clear pattern of severe disadvantage for Negroes compared with whites… Our investigation arrives at the clear conclusion that the riot in Baltimore must be attributed to two elements — ‘white racism’ and economic oppression of the Negro. It is impossible to give specific weights to each, but together they gave clear cause for many of the ghetto residents to riot.

The decade following the riots saw significant white flight from Baltimore, as factory jobs in the Rust Belt city dried up. The city lost more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs between 1950 and 1995, according to ThinkProgress. As middle- and working-class whites left Baltimore in droves, they left behind a shrunken tax base and an enervated local economy.

“All the middle-class people moved out,” Mike Tsamouras, 74, told The Boston Globe in 2010. “We lost a lot of people.”

Between 1970 and 1980, the city’s population dropped from 906,000 to 787,000. By 2010, Census data showed there were just 620,961 residents in Baltimore.

As factory jobs moved overseas, most of the opportunities for employment that replaced them did not pay very well.

A 2012 Brookings study found that jobs in low-paying industries like food service grew by more than 60 percent in Baltimore from 1980 to 2007. Meanwhile, jobs in high-wage industries increased by only 10 percent.

The gradual attrition of jobs that paid a decent wage rendered Baltimore particularly vulnerable to the drug trade, which has become almost synonymous with the city thanks to media depictions like HBO’s “The Wire.” Starting in the late 1970s, drug kingpins began recruiting children and teenagers — who, if caught, could usually escape the criminal justice system more easily and more cheaply than adults — to aid with the day-to-day business of selling illicit substances. For many young people, the drug trade offered much more lucrative possibilities than the weak local economy.

Compounding all these issues has been the subprime crisis of the past several years. Predatory lenders allegedly targeted black communities in Baltimore, steering people into untenable, high-interest mortgages that would eventually wipe out their wealth and leave the city riddled with foreclosed and vacant homes.

A damaged economy, high levels of crime, little opportunity to achieve something better: That’s the context Freddie Gray lived in his whole life. In Sandtown-Winchester, the Baltimore neighborhood where Gray grew up, the unemployment rate is 1 in 5, about twice as high as the city average, according to a Baltimore City Health Department report cited by Slate.


Nearly one-third of the neighborhood’s families live in poverty, and more than half its households earn less than $25,000 a year.

The neighborhood is also plagued by a “rate of lead paint violations almost four times as high as it was citywide,” according to Slate. Lead paint is linked to a host of health problems and is highly correlated with increased levels of violent crime.

In addition to all this, residents of the neighborhood must contend with disproportionate levels of deadly violence. People who live in Sandtown-Winchester and the adjacent Harlem Park neighborhood are “more than twice as likely to be killed than residents of Baltimore overall,” Slate found.

And civilian violence isn’t the only kind rendering these streets unsafe.

Between 2011 and September 2014, the city of Baltimore shelled out $5.7 million to cover police brutality lawsuits, according to a Baltimore Sun investigation.


That’s enough taxpayer money to pay for a “state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds,” the Sun noted. And that figure doesn’t include the $5.8 million in taxpayer dollars to cover legal costs for the officers accused of misconduct.

From the Sun:

Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson. Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.

Faced with intractable poverty, high rates of deadly violence and a “poison” relationship between citizens and the police, it’s perhaps not surprising if many Baltimore residents feel like Pierre Thomas, 37, a protester who told NPR this week that calls for “peace” only come when the powerful feel threatened.

“Where was the peace when we were getting shot? Where’s the peace when we were getting laid out? Where is the peace when we are in the back of ambulances? Where is the peace then?” Thomas said. “They don’t want to call for peace then. But you know when people really want peace? When the white people have to get out of bed, when cops have to wear riot gear, when the cops start talking about, oh we got broken arms. Then they want peace.”

“Peace?” Thomas went on. “It’s too late for peace.”

See below for more statistics about race, crime and the economy in Baltimore.

Source: Census Bureau, Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance, The Jacob France Institute, Baltimore Police Department, The Baltimore Sun

Source: City of Baltimore

Source: City of Baltimore

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who canceled an overseas trip to go to Baltimore, attended a community meeting on Tuesday. O’Malley, who left the governor’s mansion this year and is a potential Democratic contender for president in 2016, served as mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007.

The Washington Post pointed out that O’Malley’s tough-on-crime policies as mayor contributed to the conditions that led to the recent unrest in Baltimore.

— Samuel Levine

HuffPost’s Simon McCormack reports:

Eugene “Big U” Henley said on Tuesday that he understands why violent protests have engulfed Baltimore, but thinks it’s in the demonstrators’ best interest to stay out of the streets.

The 48-year-old former West Los Angeles gang member said in an interview with The Huffington Post that after seeing numerous instances of police violence go unpunished, many may see fighting back as the only option.

Read the full story here.

A protester approached by MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts on Tuesday offered pointed criticism of the way his network and other media have covered unrest in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray this month.

After admitting that looting and rioting was not the best way to represent her community and its demands for answers, the protester asked Roberts a question of her own.

“My question to you is, when we were out here protesting all last week for six days straight peacefully, there were no news cameras, there were no helicopters, there was no riot gear, and nobody heard us,” she said. “So now that we’ve burned down buildings and set businesses on fire and looted buildings, now all of the sudden everybody wants to hear us. Why does it take a catastrophe like this in order for America to hear our cry? I mean, enough is enough. We’ve had too many lives lost at the hands of police officers. Enough is enough.”

Watch the rest of the interview below:

Nick Wing

HuffPost’s Julia Craven reports:

BALTIMORE — A group of community members came together Tuesday to funnel positive energy into a very dismal neighborhood, a day after violent protests rocked Baltimore.

Dozens of people gathered at the intersection of W. North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue — an area that on Monday was marred by trash, burning vehicles and a torched CVS.

Instead of chaos, the intersection on Tuesday hosted a group of drummers, percussionists and marital artists. Jason Harris, a local artist, told The Huffington Post that several community groups came out to form a drum circle and perform capoeira “to put out some positive community energy in the place where violence occurred yesterday.”

Read the full story here.

HuffPost’s Alexandra Svokos reports:

A vast majority of Baltimore’s 85,000 public school students are eligible for free and reduced-priced meals, and the city’s school closings Tuesday have left thousands of children without access to that food. Thankfully, volunteers and community organizers are working to meet their needs, providing safe spaces and free food for public school students throughout the city.

Volunteers have been using the term #BaltimoreLunch on Twitter to organize donations and food distribution with the help of the nonprofit organizing tool Operation Help or Hush. City officials announced Monday that Baltimore schools would be closed as a result of the rioting and unrest that has broken out in response to the death and subsequent funeral of Freddie Gray, a black man who died of a spinal injury that he sustained in police custody last week.

Read the full story here.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) opened his weekly briefing by offering his sympathies to the people harmed in Baltimore’s riots and calling for quick prosecutions.

“I hope the investigation into illegal behavior will be be concluded soon and those who’ve engaged in criminal behavior will be promptly pursued and charged,” McConnell said.

Although he could have been referring to the investigation into the killing of Freddie Gray, McConnell’s spokesman said he meant the people who were committing the violence and arson seen in the city overnight.

— Michael McAuliff

Several dozen Baltimore residents converged along Security Boulevard near where a riot, or “purge,” had been advertised via Instagram fliers Tuesday. Several children came with their families, including Mekai Hines, a 12-year-old who came with his mom and brother.

mekai hines

“I’m here because people have been talking about rioters coming to Security Mall, and I’m here with a prayer group and we’re praying that people don’t come up here and riot,” Mekai said.

On the other side of the highway, a police helicopter landed in the closed Security Square Mall parking lot, where dozens of officers had gathered.

— Arthur Delaney

HuffPost’s Cameron Keady reports:

Following the Monday funeral of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man who died in police custody last week, protesters clashed with police officers in violent riots throughout the city of Baltimore.

The city had experienced 144 vehicle fires, 15 structure fires and nearly 200 arrests, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency.

But out of the chaos has come a flurry of community outreach to put Baltimore back together. On Tuesday morning, residents came together to clean up areas damaged by the unrest. More than 2,500 people had joined a Baltimore cleanup effort Facebook event as of Tuesday afternoon, and the numbers continue to grow.

Read the full story here.

HuffPost’s Nick Wing and Sam Levine report:

Groups of protesters violently clashed with police in Baltimore on Monday, before looting businesses and setting fire to cars and structures. At least 15 officers were injured in these confrontations, according to police. By the end of the night, almost 200 people had been arrested. Protesters gathered hours after a funeral was held for Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man who died in police custody last week under circumstances that still have not been revealed.

While some people have sought to explain the sense of frustration and despair that could drive citizens of Baltimore to do this, few are actually condoning their specific actions as the best or most wise way to achieve progress. But as discussion about the riots continues over the next few days, it’s necessary to keep the turmoil in perspective.

Read the full story here.

Security Square Mall just outside Baltimore in Woodlawn, Maryland, and some other businesses nearby closed Tuesday over fears of another riot such as the one that happened in West Baltimore the day before.

A half-dozen young people from Baltimore walked into the parking lot of a Weis Markets where contractors were putting plywood boards over the store’s windows at 3 p.m. Devon Winfield, 23, told HuffPost he and his friends came to witness what might happen after seeing a flier on Instagram calling people to meet at the Security Square Mall at 3:30. Winfield said he and his friends had no intention to riot.

“[We’re here] not to be part of the group or anything, just to see what’s happening,” Winfield said, adding that he thought the protesters angry about Freddie Gray’s death were right to be mad even if he disagreed with their violent methods.

A Weis spokeswoman said in an email that the store closed over fears of violence.

“Weis Markets has been closely monitoring the situation in the Baltimore area. Out of an abundance of caution, we closed our store located in Woodlawn, Maryland at 12:00 p.m. today. As always, our priority is the safety of our customers and our associates.”

— Arthur Delaney

The Baltimore Orioles tweeted that Wednesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox would be played Wednesday and be closed to the public:

The Orioles also announced the postponed games from April 27 and 28 will be made up on May 28 as a double-header.

For more, go to the Orioles Twitter account.

— Paige Lavender

HuffPost’s Alexander C. Kaufman reports:

Some of Baltimore’s biggest employers closed their offices on Tuesday, following the violence that erupted after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died after suffering a spinal injury in police custody.

Johns Hopkins University, which employs more than 21,000 workers in the city, canceled all classes and events on Tuesday and asked all nonessential employees to stay home.

“This is out of an abundance of caution and uncertainty about what conditions will be like today,” Dennis O’Shea, a spokesman for the college, told The Huffington Post.

Read the full story here.

HuffPost’s Christopher Mathias reports:

Rival Baltimore gang members came together Monday night to say that they never formed a truce to harm city police officers in revenge for the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died last week after being injured in police custody.

“We want the people of Baltimore City to know that the image they are trying to portray of gangs in Baltimore — the [Black Guerilla Family], the Bloods, the Crips — we did not make that truce to harm cops,” a man who identified as a member of the Bloods gang told Baltimore’s NBC affiliate station WBAL 11.

Read the full story here.

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) is famous as a powerful Democrat from San Francisco, but she was born in Baltimore, where her father, Thomas D’Alesandro, was mayor — an office one of her brothers also held.

She offered this statement Tuesday:

All of us who love justice and love Baltimore are deeply saddened by the death of Freddie Gray and the deep wounds that have been laid bare in the Baltimore community.

Gray’s death in police custody demands answers, and I am pleased that the Department of Justice has opened an investigation into what has happened. Once again, we are reminded of the need to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they police.

Every person deserves respect before the law. Our thoughts are with the family and loved ones of Freddie Gray. We also pray for the swift recovery of the police officers injured in the line of duty. Violence cannot solve the problems before us. We must respect the great successful tradition of non-violence – and thousands of Baltimoreans are to be commended for demonstrating peacefully for the cause of justice.

— Michael McAuliff

HuffPost’s Mollie Reilly reports:

President Barack Obama on Tuesday addressed the eruption of protests and riots in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, condemning the violent demonstrations while acknowledging that the underlying problems plaguing the city are “not new” and will require national “soul-searching” to solve.

During a press conference with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Obama was asked by NBC News’ Chris Jansing about the growing frustration that not enough is being done in communities like Baltimore.

Obama said his thoughts were with Gray’s family as well as the police injured in Monday’s protests, and criticized the violent approach taken by some demonstrators.

Read the full story here.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who lives in Baltimore, was tasked with leading the Democratic side of debate over a bill to approve President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. But he interrupted that chore Tuesday to talk about his strife-torn hometown, calling the violence “heartbreaking.” He also insisted it represents the actions of a few.

“What happened to Freddie Gray is something that needs to be fully investigated. We want justice. All of us want justice,” Cardin said. “Thousands of protesters were out on the streets in Baltimore exercising their First Amendment rights, expressing their frustration, and they did it in an orderly way, in the way that I think we would want to see people express their views about matters of importance, including justice for Freddie Gray.

“There were a small number that decided to take to the streets in violence,” he added. “It was counterproductive to the message. The family of Freddie Gray urged yesterday, particularly the day of his funeral, to be a day without protests, but these individuals decided that they would take matters into their own hands, and what they did was hurt their community, hurt their neighborhood and hurt the city I love.”

Watch his speech:

— Michael McAuliff

NBC Washington reports that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who usually works out of the state capital of Annapolis, is temporarily moving his office to Baltimore.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has cancelled a series of scheduled appearances in Dublin, Ireland, to return to Baltimore. The potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, who served as mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2006, was in Dublin on Monday preparing to make paid speeches to top business executives, according to CNN. But by late Monday, his spokeswoman announced that he would return to Baltimore Tuesday morning.

–Marina Fang

HuffPost’s Arthur Delaney and Julia Craven report:

By 3 p.m., dozens of teenagers had shown up [at the Mondawmin Mall]– and dozens of police officers were waiting. One young woman picked up stones while officers fastened riot helmets. The officers and teenagers faced off across a narrow road off the mall’s parking lot.

Soon the officers started yelling at the teenagers, instructing them to leave mall grounds. Their demands were met with chants of “Fuck the police!” and “Don’t shoot!” The teens could be heard saying police had “started” things by killing Gray.

Once pushback from officers began to get intense, teenagers ran to a 7-Eleven on the other side of Reisterstown Road — they were upset, but still relatively peaceful.

This was short-lived.

Read more here.

Debra Schindler, a spokeswoman for MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in east Baltimore, told The Huffington Post that several individuals had sought treatment Monday evening for injuries related to pepper spray.

“They included a protestor/rioter sprayed by cops because he was allegedly mugging someone; 1 was a woman who was sprayed by a rioter in the process of being mugged; 1 was a police officer who was hit by overspray,” Schindler said.

— Sam Levine

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) briefed the media Tuesday morning after meeting with Baltimore police.

The Washington Post’s Justin Jouvenal reports the governor said county police and state troopers from around the state will help National Guard troops in Baltimore.

— Sara Bondioli

Justin Jouvenal of The Washington Post tweeted Tuesday morning that volunteers were on the streets in Baltimore to help clean up debris.

Officials from the Baltimore City School District announced on Monday that crisis counselors and mental health professionals will be made available at schools throughout the city for “as long as it is necessary.”

“At this time of tension and anxiety regarding the tragic events surrounding Mr. Freddie Gray, we have a heightened responsibility to our students, families, and school communities,” said school district leaders.

For more, click here.

–Rebecca Klein

ATM ripped from wall at this Baltimore store on Pennsylvania Avenue. #baltimoreriot @nbcnewyork @nbcproducer

A photo posted by Marc Santia (@marcsantia4ny) on Apr 28, 2015 at 1:03am PDT

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said police had prepared for Monday’s violence, but were outnumbered by agitators not involved in protesting.

“This is not protesting,” Batts said during a late-night news conference. “This is not your First Amendment rights. This is criminal activity.”

Batts reiterated a statement by police earlier in the day that Baltimore gangs were planning to kill police officers.

He said National Guard troops were on duty in the city.

— Sam Levine

Relatives of Freddie Gray said during a Monday night news conference that those engaged in violence in Baltimore were not honoring Gray, who died after suffering a spinal injury in police custody this month.

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