After the Riots: City Paper's dispatches from the days after violence exploded in Penn-North and downtown last week

City Paper

April 28, 2015

It is not clear yet whether Tuesday is the day after, or Day Two.

Police spokesman Captain J. Eric Kowalczyk says 235 people were arrested last night, all but 34 of them adults. There were 144 vehicle fires and 19 fires in structures.

In a morning press conference Gov. Larry Hogan, who moved his office temporarily to Baltimore from Annapolis, said more than 1,000 National Guardsmen were being deployed with more available. He spoke of the Monday rioting as an isolated incident, in mostly past-tense terms. He promised that the increased “boots on the ground” would make Baltimore safe.

Meanwhile, public schools, college classes, a baseball game, and dozens of other events scheduled for today were canceled. Some restaurants and others provided free meals to public school students. CNN and other national media outlets hit the streets looking for fire.

At noon on the corner of Pennsylvania and North avenues a large crowd is gathered in front of riot police. Many milling about have shovels and bags: They’ve been cleaning up after last nights fires and looting. The crowd is mixed in race and age. News trucks dot the road to the east. Three helicopters hover in the air. There are DPW people in yellow vests directing traffic away.

A man with a shovel says the police showed up an hour and a half ago. “I can’t even get to my car,” the man says. Just then, a loud BANG erupts from the middle of the road, 30 feet away. A wave of panicked people run over us, a woman screaming “run!”

The line breaks. Then it is over. The crowd goes back to what it was doing.

State Sen. Catherine Pugh is here with voter registration cards. People are chanting.

Meanwhile, a few blocks south and west, in Sandtown, Dr. Matthew Loftus says the riots last night hit the western part of the neighborhood, not the south, where he lives with his family. On this day local organizers wanted to take youth to clean up the mess, but then thought better of it as word of a “daytime curfew” spread. “They didn’t want to get anyone in trouble,” Loftus says.

This daytime curfew seems to be a fantasy. But it ruled events in the neighborhood all the same. Lotfus says a meeting at 1601 N. Calhoun St. (the New Song Worship & Arts Center) with the kids was followed by the Jubilee Arts (1900 block of Pennsylvania) taking kids in to work on painting murals until 5 p.m.

By 3 p.m. the crowd at Pennsylvania and North is still there. So are the police. Now a “love line” of black men are posted between the crowd and the cops. A bottle was thrown, pepper spray deployed, one person taken into police custody. The civilians in the middle are trying to keep it civil.

On the scanner, police are talking about clashing with BGF and Bloods gang members—170 of them. It is unclear where.

This is not supposed to be happening. This morning, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young held a press conference with clergy and gang leaders, saying that in fact there was no gang truce in order to attack police.

“It’s clear that people are acting on odd sources of information,” Loftus says. “As soon as that gang threat got out [yesterday morning] every community leader who knew any gang members started calling them and asking what was going on. And then it looks like it got squelched from the top.”

The Sandtown-Winchester Community Association meeting for tonight has been canceled. “The reason they gave was because they want to concentrate on the cleanup,” Loftus says.

At 3:30 a building is burning and media are going into the burning structure to photograph it, according to the scanner. The fire department wants police to keep the media safe from themselves. It’s a roof fire on the CVS that was looted and burned last night. It is out in a few minutes.

Just after 4 the 12 O’Clock Boys arrive on motorcycles at North and Pennsylvania.

It’s three hours until dark. Six before curfew. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

 

April 29, 2015

Late Wednesday evening, Evan Davis is walking down the sidewalk beside the jail where he had been held since Monday night without charges.

“We were protesting, they were trying to clear the streets,” he says, still wearing the peach-colored shirt and tie that he was arrested in. “The part of the protests we are at, nobody was doing anything, we wasn’t burning anything, we wasn’t stealing, you know, it was just a peaceful protest. Things started getting a little crazy a couple blocks down so they start grabbing people, locking them up. We came to Central Booking. Nobody knew why we were here, they didn’t tell us what we were charged with, we didn’t get fed for the time period that we were here, and they just wouldn’t tell us what we were locked up for. They had us piled in the cells. Cells that were supposed to be for 10 people were like over 20 people piled in the cells. They didn’t know who we were, we were just livestock. I guess it began to get too overcrowded and when that happened, they started to call out people’s names, but they still couldn’t identify us because they didn’t have no pictures for us. They started calling us by name and started releasing us seven to 10 people at a time.”

Davis is one of 101 people just released out of the back door of the Baltimore City Detention Center without being charged, though the Baltimore City Police Department says they may still be charged.

“I’m disgusted by that,” says Natalie Finegar, the deputy district public defender for Baltimore City. “I think that’s cruel and unusual punishment if you ask. You’ve had people in Central Booking for two days without the opportunity to have contact with their families, post bail, or even know why they are there.”

Finegar filed 82 habeas petitions demanding “the release of individuals that were being held without a statement of probable cause since Monday.”

The scene outside the jail is moving. One white woman with blond hair runs out the door to her waiting boyfriend and jumps up, wrapping her arms and legs around him as they kiss. Other groups of women come running out of the door together screaming with joy.

The women in one cell describe it as torture. They say that guards sprayed mace into the cell.

“Torture,” another woman says. “We took care of each other.”

“She was having an asthma attack, because they wanted to spray mace or whatever,” Sasha Robinson, a young African-American woman picked up at Mondawmin Mall, says of her cellmate Caroline Qualls, a middle-aged administrative assistant at Johns Hopkins University who says she was picked up after kneeling and praying in front of the police on Pennsylvania Avenue. Both were arrested Monday and had not been charged. “They wouldn’t even open the door for her. We were panicking.”

“I was about to fall over,” Qualls says.

“She was, I had to grab her before she fell,” Robinson adds.

One man, Shawn Carrié, a photographer who works for Vice, among other outlets, was arrested after being shot in the head by a pepper pellet for taking photographs during Monday afternoon’s fracas at Mondawmin Mall. I actually witnessed, photographed, and tweeted his arrest. “I was taking pictures and . . . he aimed at me and he shot three. One I saw go to my right, one went over that way and one went boom, right in my forehead. And I was like almost blacked out,” Carrié says, the mark on in the center of his forehead clearly visible. Then they arrested him. He says he told them “I’m a reporter, here’s my press pass.” He says the first cop wanted to cut him loose, but a superior refused to and he had been in jail ever since.

Over to the side there are medics offering care. Carrick Bastiany-Gaumnitz is having wounds on his arm dressed. He says he had been badly cut in the hand and abdomen trying to protect a bus driver from a rioter with a knife. He went to Hopkins Hospital and got stitches and “Monday I was walking back from Fells Point and I wanted to take a picture of Pratt Street and how there was nobody there at all just to show my friends this is what is happening. I wasn’t able to take the picture because officers surrounded me very quickly for having a phone out. The officers strip-searched me in the middle of Pratt Street right in front of The Capital Grille and proceeded to empty out all my contacts and started to root through them as if it were a free-for-all like anything that they saw that they liked they could keep . . . They kept two Wi-Fi hot spots, my Sony phone, and my other . . .  touch-screen phone.” He says they never returned his belongings and he received only a Tylenol for his wounds.

Detective Woods, at the media-relations desk of the Baltimore Police Department, does not comment on any alleged mistreatment. (Baynard Woods)

 

April 30, 2015

It’s a few minutes after 10 p.m. Thursday night, when curfew went into effect across Baltimore, but bells near City Hall start to ring, marking the change of the hour.

Earlier tweets showed Joseph Kent, the activist who was arrested Tuesday night in dramatic fashion and released earlier in the day, standing near a flag pole on the lawn out front of City Hall and speaking to a small crowd. But he and his audience are gone. All that remains are news trucks, reporters doing live shots, and a group of National Guard soldiers standing watch outside the house of government.

Just south, on The Block, the strip-club marquees are alight as if it’s business as usual. But nobody is out in the usually bustling area, save for a solitary pedestrian.

Closer to the Inner Harbor, there’s a steady stream of cars on Lombard and Pratt streets—fewer drivers than there would probably be on a normal night, but more than one would expect for a city on virtual lockdown. Nobody is pulled over.

An African-American woman still dressed in her Chick-fil-A uniform sits just across the street from the World Trade Center, where National Guard troops are stationed with a humvee. Two people walk along Pratt Street unbothered.

Farther east, at South Central Avenue and Fleet Street, where a sparkling new Hyatt Place hotel was recently erected, there’s no sign of a police presence looking toward Harbor East in one direction and Fells Point in the other. The famous stretch of bars, shops, and cobblestone streets on Broadway are a complete ghost town. Many of the windows are boarded up, anticipating further unrest, but nobody was there.

A cop car isn’t spotted until several moments later, cruising west along Aliceanna Street near South Wolfe Street.

Things changed drastically farther north, near a row of stores on Monument Street in Middle East, where there are a cluster of at least a half-dozen police cars. A group of six officers stand in a circle talking on the sidewalk.

One or two people walk the streets farther away from the police pow. At North Patterson Park Avenue near Mura Street, two police cars and a police van are pulled over to arrest two men for curfew violations.

“I’m just walking home! I don’t even know this man,” one of them exclaims.

One of the officers brings the man, wearing a black shirt and jeans, over to the squad car parked just behind the van. Another officer takes the other man, wearing a red shirt, and sits him on the back bumper of the van.

The man in the black shirt tells the officers he lost his bus pass and had been walking since 9:45 p.m., and that he was only two blocks from his house. When the officers seemed unswayed by this, the man tells a City Paper photographer: “Take pictures of this. Let people know what’s happening in this city.”

As this happens, the man in the red shirt tells a different officer he had been released from jail six hours ago. He says he’d been locked up since Monday and did not hear about the curfew. He was trying to get back to Brooklyn, far south of here.

Another car comes up to offer support.

It’s not clear why these two men, apparent strangers, were singled out while we’d driven by other people in East Baltimore who went untouched.

Both are loaded into the van and the officers make sure they were properly restrained. As if on cue, two young men walk up the sidewalk on the other side of Patterson. The group of officers briskly move to detain them. The two men are cuffed and quickly brought over to join the others. As they are being loaded in, one of the officers says, “They’re not messing around with this stuff, I’m telling you.”

The cruisers and van depart. Back downtown, a group of four young women and a man walk by carrying what looks like a bag of carry-out food.

On North Charles Street among the brownstones of Mount Vernon, there is hardly any sign of a police presence. (Brandon Weigel)

 

May 1, 2015

Since the announcement of the citywide 10 p.m. curfew, service-industry workers in Baltimore have had to deal with curtailed or nonexistent hours and the reduction in wages that comes with it. The city’s many waiters, bartenders, cabbies, cleaning people, and other service workers have expressed how the curfew has been affecting them and their worries for the future.

“Really, the only thing that’s hard is not knowing when you are going to work again,” says Patrick Martin, bar manager at Metro Gallery, a Station North concert venue and art gallery. “We’ve been closed since Monday, essentially. Fortunately, we have a small bar staff, there’s only five of us, then the security, door staff, and sound. Overall it’s about 15 people that work there.”

That’s a staff of 15 whose wages for the week have disappeared, and that’s just from one small, locally owned business. That loss of wages can have a real impact.

“A lot of people live paycheck to paycheck, shift to shift, even,” says Martin. “Not just people who work in bars, people that work in restaurants, there’s also people who clean those places on a daily basis.”

On top of that, business is down at many restaurants due to a lack of customers during the reduced hours. Several places have told me they’re getting a third of the customers they might normally get. Servers come in just to be cut after two hours and no tables.

“I don’t think we’re going to fully understand the outcome of this curfew until a couple of weeks from now when everyone is getting their paychecks or they’re trying to worry about bills,” says Joseph Weeks, who has waited tables at various restaurants in Baltimore. “It’s already created a gap in income. As to if that income will somehow be made up via people kind of bum-rushing restaurants when the curfew is lifted, who knows?”

The curfew and people staying home have also affected the city’s cab drivers. “Nothing’s open. Nobody’s around,” says Dirck Keyser, a city cabbie. “The way I’ve been running my cab is pretty much centered around people going out and nightlife and tourism.”

Keyser says he was getting 20 rides on most days before the curfew was imposed; that number is down to three. He speculates it’s similarly slow for most cab drivers in his company, and not because they aren’t out there trying to get fares. “Curfew is killing me, and businesses are closing way earlier even than the curfew,” he says. “I was just driving through downtown and it’s a ghost town right now.”

Like many cab drivers, Keyser pays a weekly lease for his cab and after paying his lease earlier in the day, he ended up with only “enough money to make change for my next few fares. It’s a fraction of where I expected to be at the rate I was going.”

As for the next few days, he lays it out starkly: “I’m just going to have to stay out. Before I was working 10 or 12 hours most days and taking one day off. It was already pretty brutal . . . At the rate I’m going, I don’t even know. Driving around, I’m burning gas, I’m essentially spending money looking for work.”

Brian Shulman, the owner of Scores, estimates that he’ll lose more than $100,000 as a result of the curfew. “The bills don’t stop,” he says. “I’m mostly worried about the staff. A lot of service-industry people live paycheck to paycheck.”

Shulman says that during curfew, last call is at 9:15. The timing is particularly bad for Scores. “Tomorrow night should be one of the biggest nights we’ve ever had,” he says, noting the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight tomorrow night. “I’ve had every table booked for a month. Now it’s cancellation after cancellation.”

The curfew is, of course, theoretically in place to protect citizens and property owners from the vandalism that spread throughout the city on Monday. But Liam Flynn, proprietor of Liam Flynn’s Ale House on North Avenue, says the curfew is having a deeper impact on business than he feels the possible future vandalism might.

“If we have vandalism that ever happens or looting, we have insurance for that,” he says.

However, there’s no way to calculate the lost income from the reduced hours, especially to his staff who make a large amount of their income from tips.

Flynn says he finds most people supporting the curfew don’t actually live in the city and have a skewed perspective of what’s happening here.

“I usually get ‘How could you care more about profit and put your workers in harm’s way?’ Which is completely not true. We hire locally. People know the landscape,” he says. “There’s no way I would fire somebody if they didn’t feel safe coming into the area.

“It’s quite the opposite—they want more hours, and they want more help. Now any time somebody tries to counter lifting the curfew, I first ask them, where do they live?”

The impression some outside of the city have that it’s unsafe here even extends to vendors. Flynn notes he has received notice from some suppliers that they will not be sending delivery trucks into the city.

Moving forward, Flynn thinks that it’s up to the community, not the government, to affect positive change.

“We have to be active about what has happened to the city to revitalize it and come out of this in—I don’t want to say a better position, but maybe it is a better position,” he says. “That we show that we can get together as a community, both business and residential.” (Josh Sisk)

 

May 2, 2015

I was pissed off when I saw the Baltimore Police order regarding “Media Zones at Pennsylvania Avenue and North Avenue or Areas with Other Large Congregations of People” last night.

The order stated that “Media with official credentials must go to designated media zones (as designated by yellow tape) at 10 p.m. when curfew begins.”

When I talked to Sgt. Jarron Jackson in the Media Relations Department of the BPD, he defended the zones and explained that it did not mean that media could not roll around the city checking out conditions in areas when there aren’t large crowds. But he also said something to the effect of: “We let you be exempt from the curfew, didn’t we?”

To be clear, the answer is: No. You did not. The Baltimore Police Department does not have the authority to override the First Amendment. You can’t take credit for allowing the press to observe what is happening in the city. But thanks anyway.

As it turned out, at City Hall at least, there was no yellow tape and other than one moment when one very angry officer charged the press and told them to get on the sidewalk, the press was cordoned off in the same way they have been every other night, by lines of riot police.

On Tuesday night, the first night of curfew, there were a few more protesters or residents out, but the police helicopters first told the media to leave or they would be arrested. When they shot off rounds of tear gas it was primarily at the press. And the media goons like Don Lemon and Geraldo Rivera—who I saw talking to Baltimore Spectator, the local blogger and broadcaster who was the first person arrested in the Freddie Gray protests—dutifully played their role.

After curfew at Pennsylvania and North avenues on Thursday night, there were only a few residents out. But the intersection was full of police and media, who were each playing their part for the others. When officers brought out dogs, it was as though they were acting out the role of Alabama police in the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s and, at some level, it seems even they had to know this.

In addition to everything else going, postmodernism hit Baltimore, a thoroughly modern city, this week as people imitated things they have seen in the media. Protesters know how to protest because of pictures they’ve seen. Cops are acting like cops on TV. And the TV is acting like TV.

I’ve seen a lot of posts saying “the media is doing X.” The “media” is doing a lot of things right now and a lot of those posts are bullshit. But a lot of people are really busting their asses, doing what we should be doing: Our essential job is to be out on the streets or in the courtrooms or digging through documents to record what is happening.

But as long as the big TV people all stay at the same places and watch each other, the police don’t have to cordon us off. We’ve done it to ourselves.

There was a point Friday night at City Hall when everyone realized that there was seriously no one left but police, press, and a couple of young kids against Israeli apartheid. The cops in riot gear suddenly broke the line as if someone said “Cut!” and everybody wandered home through the empty streets. (Baynard Woods)

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