Accessibility links

USA

Obama: 'No Excuse' for Riots in Baltimore


President Barack Obama speaks about recent unrest in Baltimore during his joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, April 28, 2015, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington.

President Barack Obama said there's “no excuse” for violence in the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore, Maryland, where riots broke out following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died from injuries sustained while in police custody earlier this month.

While condemning the vandalism,Obama acknowledged a "slow-rolling crisis" in community policing, saying there have been too many troubling police interactions with black citizens.

"We have seen too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals - primarily African American, often poor - in ways that raise troubling questions," the president said, speaking at length about Baltimore at a White House press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"This is not new. And we shouldn't pretend that it's new," Obama added, referring to tensions in U.S. communities over police actions.

"I think there are police departments that have to do some soul-searching. I think there's some communities that have to do some soul-searching. I think we as a country have to do some soul-searching," he added.

The president said if the country wanted to solve the problem, it needed not only to invest in police training, but also in early education and criminal justice reform.

Earlier Tuesday, National Guard troops deployed across Baltimore as authorities attempted to restore order after Monday's violence.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency, and said Tuesday he is temporarily moving his office from the state capital, Annapolis, to Baltimore. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who called the rioting "one of the darkest days the city has ever faced," has declared a weeklong nighttime curfew.

Public schools in the city of 620,000 people were closed Tuesday, as the city began to clean up after looters ransacked stores, pharmacies and a shopping mall and clashed with police.

Volunteers swept up charred debris in front of a CVS pharmacy as dozens of police officers in riot gear stood by and firefighters worked to damp down the embers.

What sparked violence

The violence began Monday as hundreds of high school students marched toward a local mall after classes had been dismissed for the day, then spread out across several neighborhoods, overwhelming the police department's ability to respond as the protests turned violent.

Fifteen buildings, including a church-run senior center that was still under construction, and 144 vehicles were set on fire, and nearly 200 people were arrested, according to the city mayor's office Tuesday.

Protesters also threw rocks, bricks, bottles and other objects at riot police. Police Commissioner Anthony Betts said 15 officers were injured in the clashes, including six who were hospitalized.

"I understand anger. What we see isn't anger, it's the destruction of a community," Mayor Rawlings-Blake told reporters late Monday, calling the protesters "thugs."

Gray's family called for the rioting to stop late Monday night. "And I'm as hurt but I do not want you all to be out here," said Gloria Darden, Gray's mother. "I want you all to get justice for my son but don't do it like this here. Don't tear up the whole city, man. Just for him? It's wrong."

The sister of Freddie Gray also condemned the rioting. "I think the violence is wrong. ... I don't like it at all," Fredericka Gray said late Monday.

The attorney for Gray's family, Billy Murphy, said the family had hoped to organize a peace march later in the week.

WATCH: Related video report by Smita Nordwall

Initial response questioned

State and local authorities pledged to restore order and calm, but quickly found themselves responding to questions about whether their initial responses had been adequate.

Rawlings-Blake was asked why she waited hours to ask the governor to declare a state of emergency, while the governor himself hinted she should have come to him earlier.

“We were all in the command center in the second floor of the State House in constant communication, and we were trying to get in touch with the mayor for quite some time,” Governor Larry Hogan told a Monday evening news conference. “She finally made that call, and we immediately took action.”

Major General Linda Singh, adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard, said up to 5,000 troops would be available for Baltimore's streets.

Guard spokesman Lieutenant Charles Kohler said about 500 guardsmen are being deployed in Baltimore Tuesday, including in front of the police station, and the force will build to about 2,000 though the day.

Kohler said it was the first time the National Guard was called in to quell unrest in Baltimore since 1968, when some of the same neighborhoods were convulsed by violence after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Latest in series of police brutality cases

Thousands of mourners had gathered earlier in the day to pay their respects to Freddie Gray, whose death has become the latest incident sparking questions and protests about interactions between minorities and police in the United States.

Gray suffered severe spinal cord injuries following his arrest on April 12.

Officials said he was not restrained properly while being transported in a police van. Police Commissioner Betts also said officers were slow to recognize that Gray, who apparently had asthma, needed medical attention.

Six officers who had contact with Gray have been placed on paid administrative leave.

The rioting Monday was the worst such violence in the U.S. since the turbulent protests that broke out over the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed black 18-year-old who was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer.

New attorney general condemns violence

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who was sworn in Monday just hours before the violence erupted, met with Obama at the White House to discuss the federal government's response to the unrest.

Lynch later issued a statement condemning what she called "the senseless acts of violence by some individuals in Baltimore." She promised to deploy the full resources of the Justice Department in "protecting those under threat, investigating wrongdoing, and securing an end to violence."

The Justice Department and the FBI have a civil rights investigation into Gray's death. The Baltimore Police Department said more information on the case is expected Friday.

Baltimore is located about 60 kilometers (40 miles) from Washington, D.C.

Some material for this report came from The Associated Press, AFP and Reuters.

XS
SM
MD
LG