POLITICS

How The Baltimore Chaos Started After Freddie Gray's Funeral

BALTIMORE -- Luke Andrzejewski didn't wait for the Mondawmin Mall to close Monday before he told the 10 workers he manages at the Burger King here to close down the restaurant. He'd heard from several customers that kids from nearby high schools had been using social media to plan a riot at the mall for 3 p.m.

The funeral for Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man killed by police under questionable circumstances, had just been held at the nearby Shiloh Baptist Church, and violent protests had already taken place over the weekend in response to the killing.

"I don't want my employees to be anywhere near that," Andrzejewski said around 1:30 p.m., before any groups of teenagers had arrived.

Within an hour, the entire mall shut down, closing dozens of shops based on social media reports and information from police. "As a safety precaution, Mondawmin decided to close," mall spokesman Greg Harris said.

By 3 p.m., dozens of teenagers had shown up -- 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. Soon rocks, bricks and glass bottles were being thrown at officers.

About 15 minutes after things heated up, an armored vehicle belonging to the Baltimore Police Department was on the scene, seemingly chasing down groups of teenagers as they pelted it with rocks.

At least two of the mall protesters were detained by police and another teenager was knocked unconscious, during what appeared to be an attempted detainment. Several protesters who were following the cops as they carried the unconscious boy were pushed back by cops and eventually pepper sprayed.

Bricks and other items were still being thrown at officers, and officers continued pepper spraying and pushing back the crowd. Several officers were injured and carried away.

After about 90 minutes, police seemed to have gained control of the situation, with officers standing shoulder-to-shoulder and blocking access to a three-block stretch of Reisterstown Road in front of the mall.

Brittany Smith, 18, said she attended Gray's funeral Monday morning before heading to the Mondawmin Mall. She had been following #JusticeForFreddieGray on Instagram and saw that people were talking about starting a riot.

"I didn't think they were gonna go through with it," Smith said.

Smith, a student at Baltimore City Community College, said she just wanted to see what would happen, adding she is sympathetic with people who are angry about Gray's death. She was one of several people essentially trapped at the mall because bus and rail service had shut down there and police weren't letting anyone walk down the street.

"They feel like they didn't have no justice for Freddie Gray," Smith said of the protesters.

Though police had achieved relative calm at the mall, pillars of smoke rose from scenes of chaos not far away, where a building and several vehicles, including one police car, had been set on fire.

At the intersection of Pennsylvania and West North avenues, the scene looked more like a riot. Looters carrying armfuls of goods walked out of a CVS store with smashed windows. Soon, smoke started billowing out of the building. A line of police officers on Pennsylvania Avenue slowly advanced down the street and people continued to throw rocks and bottles -- even as the smoke grew more intense.

Firefighters eventually arrived, only to have their hoses slashed on live TV as they tried to put out the fire.

Blocks away, looters ransacked several stores. Crowds of people lined the sidewalks, some drinking booze that appeared to be stolen.

Members of the Nation of Islam marched down the sidewalk in a show of nonviolent force, trying to talk to people, and clergyman linked arms and walked the streets in an effort to quell the violence.

At least 15 police were injured and 27 people arrested. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake imposed a curfew and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) called in the National Guard.

Mondawmin Mall, which police had protected in the afternoon, ended up getting looted at night. The mall remained closed on Tuesday.

During Gray's funeral earlier Monday, calls for police accountability drew standing ovations. Billy Murphy, an attorney for Gray's family, called for the six police officers involved in Gray's arrest -- who have already been suspended -- to explain what happened to Gray.

"We're calling for the police, the six of them who are at least being possibly if not totally implicated, to come forward and tell it all, just like we tell our citizens to do," Murphy said. "The whole world is watching us."

Del Conley, a Baltimore resident who has been involved in some of the recent protests, told The Huffington Post outside of Gray's funeral that media has been focused on what protesters are doing wrong and that the world should be aware of why Baltimore's residents are so upset.

"People who don't live in my neighborhood or don't come from the same background as me or the same area as me -- they don't know how we live. They're outsiders looking in," Conley said. "They don't know what's going on in our neighborhood. They don't know what we go through -- they don't know anything, if you ask me."

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