The city erupted in fire Monday.
On Monday morning, police announced a “credible threat” posed by members of the Black Guerilla Family, Bloods, and Crips joining together to “take-out” law enforcement officers. Other sources claiming gang ties have told City Paper they are aware of a truce to protest the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old who died from a severed spine in police custody, but knew of no plans for violence.
But the police request for national media to make the information known seemed like it was trying to start something. There were reports of an Instagram post that read “All High Schools Monday @3 We Going To Purge From Mondawmin To The Ave, Back To Downtown,” referring to the film series where there is a single night a year in which there is no law.
Around 3 p.m. police and several large groups of kids were locked in battle in the area surrounding Mondawmin Mall. But if the police were the highly militarized victors at the Battle of Sandtown Saturday night, the kids seemed to be beating them here, throwing a large number of rocks that actually had the police retreating. When they fought back, the police used rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear-gas canisters. Once, when they seemed to directly hit a protester with a gas canister, all the police began cheering and running until a lieutenant ran and got them to stop. But they seemed horribly disorganized and ill-equipped against the young kids, who had control of the streets. They were a guerrilla band, able to disperse quickly. The police couldn’t, or didn’t, use the kind of pincer tactics that would block the kids in. I only saw two people arrested—a guy who was taking pictures and one kid, lying sadly on the ground, his face smashed against the pavement. “I ain’t even a protester,” he said.
No one, it seemed, was a protester and everyone was a combatant.
An hour or so after we arrived at Mondawmin, we began seeing plumes of smoke coming from the direction of North Avenue. City Paper Photo Editor J.M. Giordano, a couple of other photographers, and I began to run in that direction. At North and Pennsylvania avenues, the scene was entirely out of police control. A Maryland Transportation Authority Police car and a van were in flames on the side of the road. People were running out of the busted-up CVS Pharmacy with armfuls of paper towels, detergent, toilet paper, and lighter fluid. They wrapped tape around Coleman stove fuel tanks and tried to light them. One kid took yellow police tape and wrapped it around the block. The police stood in formation up the street and did not move.
The windows of a check-cashing place were smashed and people ran in and out. The same thing happened to a pharmacy. A white photographer was beaten and then rescued. Giordano was among those who hoisted him out of the fray of the intersection. A man in all red—presumably a member of the Bloods—tried to keep people calm and help the photographer. Motorcycles roared by. Police still did nothing up the hill, even though an estimated 10 vans of backup arrived.
I talked to an older guy named Lucky Crosby. He is a safety officer for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and he heeded the call of religious leaders for older men to come out and try to take control of the kids before the destroyed the neighborhood. “This is sad and tragic because this didn’t have to go like this,” he said as a young man poured more lighter fluid on a fire in the street in front of the CVS. “This community has been raped of resources by our black politicians. We live in a city where all the highest offices are held by African-Americans who look down on the working and poor in the city. And because Sandtown was a historically great community, look how low they let it come and now we looking at the police and I don’t see what the police can do. They waiting for the state police that up [at] Mondawmin protecting Reisterstown Road because the people up Reisterstown Road, their lives more valuable than ours.’”
But late in the afternoon, a group of clergy included Rev. Jamal Bryant and members of the National of Islam did march through the streets arm-in-arm, aiming to calm the violence. (Baynard Woods)
One man is strapped in the paddy wagon
At around 5:30 p.m. Monday, as the chaotic battle between police officers in riot gear and a group of young people continued on North Avenue, a picture on Twitter showed a separate group near downtown running south on St. Paul Street toward the Inner Harbor. A walk down Charles Street showed the broken windows in stores, bars, and restaurants left behind.
The 7-Eleven convenience store at North Charles and West Saratoga streets had its front door smashed in with a garbage can, the shards of glass and contents of overturned shelves still scattered across the floor.
Police, including an armored truck from Howard County, quickly moved west, apprehending a young man just outside the Royal Farms Arena, and then running to pursue a group a few blocks north, on West Fayette Street. Four officers were able to pin one of the men on the ground and place him in plastic handcuffs. More than a dozen onlookers soon gathered, holding up their phones to take pictures and record video while also jeering the officers, included one who shouted several times, “He didn’t do shit!”
People began to walk away after a few minutes, but not before a woman nearby yelled, “You cops are causing the riots!” which was soon followed by a man yelling, “You’re burning your own city!”
Just up the street at Lexington Market, a large group of riot police with shields and batons, backed by a fleet of cars and armored vehicles, formed a tight line outside the iconic market. But the large group they were seemingly waiting for never showed up—there was only a handful of people, all of them curious to see what would happen.
A man walked up, pulled out a camera, started taking pictures, and told the phalanx of police, “I would say thank you, but you’re not doing the will of the people.”
Soon after, it was announced that the game between the Orioles and White Sox would be postponed, sending a small contingent of fans in bright orange back to their cars. Otherwise, the sidewalks of downtown were mostly desolate, the air continually punctuated with the sound of sirens.
Down at the Inner Harbor, three separate groups of riot police stood watch, one between the two Harborplace pavilions, one outside the entrance to the Gallery, and one at the Brio Tuscan Grille just across Calvert Street from the shopping mall. The group outside the Italian restaurant stood idly with a young man in handcuffs, but there were otherwise no signs of the damage that happened several blocks north, let alone the turmoil in the northwest part of the city.
Two men walking east on Pratt Street stopped to take pictures of the assembled officers. They soon struck up a conversation with a nearby man, who offered to take them up the street to a restaurant that might still be serving dinner, walking right by the young man still in handcuffs and the officers in their helmets carrying shields.
A van pulled up and the officers loaded the young man into the back. Perhaps aware of the few reporters and photographers nearby, they made a point to strap him in. (Brandon Weigel)