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Riots erupt across West Baltimore, downtown

Violence and looting overtook much of West Baltimore on Monday, injuring more than a dozen police officers and leaving buildings and vehicles in flames.

As night fell, looters took to Mondawmin Mall and a Save-A-Lot and Rite Aid in Bolton Hill, loading up cars with stolen goods. About 10 fire crews battled a three-alarm fire at a large senior center under construction at Chester and Gay streets, as police officers stood guard with long guns.

About 10 p.m., police confirmed shots were fired at an officer in the area of Virginia Avenue and Reisterstown Road in Northwest Baltimore. The officer was not hit and the suspect fled.

Fifteen police officers were injured in a clash with school-age children that began around 3 p.m., and two remain hospitalized, police Col. Darryl DeSousa said in a press conference Monday night. Earlier, police spokesman Capt. Eric Kowalczyk said one officer was unresponsive and others suffered broken bones.

Police arrested 27 people, DeSousa said.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake declared a curfew across the city starting Tuesday and for the next week, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. for adults and 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. for children aged 14 and younger. She drew a distinction between peaceful protesters and “thugs” she said engaged in rioting Monday intent on “destroying our city.”

“It’s idiotic to think that by destroying your city, you’re going to make life better for anybody,” Rawlings-Blake said. 

At Rawlings-Blake's request, Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency and activating the Maryland National Guard. The order does not affect citizens' rights, but is required to activate the Guard and authorize federal assistance, Hogan spokeswoman Erin Montgomery said. It is not "martial law," Maryland National Guard Adjutant General Linda Singh said.

The governor is sending 500 state troopers to Baltimore and requesting as many as 5,000 officers from neighboring states, he said in a press conference.

"I have not made this decision lightly," Hogan said. "The National Guard represents a last resort." 

The incident stemmed from a flier that circulated widely among city school students via social media about a “purge” to take place at 3 p.m., starting at Mondawmin Mall and ending downtown. Such memes have been known to circulate regularly among city school students, based on the film "The Purge," about what would happen if all laws were suspended.

The flier included an image of protesters smashing the windshield of a police car Saturday during a march spurred by the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man who suffered a spinal cord injury earlier this month after being arrested by city police.

Kowalczyk would not speculate on whether the incident was related to Gray’s death.

The confrontation near Mondawmin escalated quickly. Smoke filled the air as police responded with shields and a tactical vehicle. Demonstrators pelted officers with rocks, bricks and bottles and assaulted a photojournalist, and officers fired back with tear gas and pepper balls.

Demonstrators set a police vehicle ablaze at North and Pennsylvania avenues. Nearby, they looted a CVS drug store, which store officials said had already closed, before it caught fire. Rioters cut the fire hose as firefighters battled the blaze.

Looting spread along Howard and Centre streets as afternoon turned to evening. Another group of people was destroying property around North and Fulton avenues, police said, and a car was set on fire at North Avenue and Pulaski Street.

Kowalczyk called the demonstrators “lawless individuals with no regard for the safety of people that live in that community” and said they would be identified and arrested. Police said via Twitter many of the rioters were juveniles and urged parents to bring their children home.

While officials had expected additional protests on the same day Gray was mourned and buried, the scale of the unrest took them by surprise, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings told CNN.

"We never expected anything like this," he said.

Rawlings-Blake activated the city's emergency operation center just before 6 p.m. to coordinate response to the riots.

Police were preparing for rioting to make its way downtown, with officers in helmets and carrying shields stationed at Lexington Market and the Inner Harbor. Maryland State Police sent 40 troopers to the city, said Keiffer Mitchell, a top aide to Gov. Larry Hogan. Several other jurisdictions, including Baltimore and Howard counties, sent officers to assist.

All but one gate to Oriole Park at Camden Yards was closed, with a game set to begin at 7:05 p.m. But team officials postponed the game less than an hour before first pitch was scheduled.

About five stores in the 600 block of Eutaw Street had busted windows and were looted after rioters came through about 4 p.m. Joe Lewis, 41, of Cherry Hill, said he and his brother tried to stop the rioters and urged them to move on.

“If [police] don’t stop what they’re doing, I wouldn’t care if they called Jesus or the law down here,” he said. “They’re going to see a side of them they wish they never brought out.”

Boubacar Sall said looters destroyed his sister’s store, Benita’s. They stole hair extensions, a television set and boxes of hair products.

Rishan George, who lives on the block, said, “you call 911 and nobody answers.”

Looters were loading up cars behind a Rite-Aid, Save-A-Lot and hardware store on McMechen Street in Bolton Hill. Neighbors shouted at them and photographed their license plates.

Janice McCulley, the hardware store's owner, said she was "devastated" but added, "It's just damage."

Earlier Monday afternoon, the threat of protests prompted police to urge downtown businesses and institutions to close, including the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Lexington Market, a city courthouse and businesses including T. Rowe Price and Venable LLP.

Two city recreation centers in West Baltimore, the Robert C. Marshall Recreation Center in Upton and Lillian Jones Recreation Center in Sandtown-Winchester, closed early. All Pratt Library branches closed early.

Public officials condemned the riots.

“For us to come out of the burial and into this, it’s absolutely inexcusable,” said the Rev. Jamal H. Bryant, who hours earlier delivered Gray's eulogy. “Violence is not the answer for justice.”

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young took to video streaming app Periscope to urge the rioters to stop.

“I am asking all of you out there looting to stop it. Please stop it. It’s hurting the city of Baltimore in more ways than one. We you loot the CVS store that means that your relatives who work in those stores can’t go to work, so they can’t get paid. There’s a ripple effect. This has gone from being a protest to rioting. This is not the protesters. These are people rioting and destroying property and looting. We have to put an end to it.”

Former Gov. Martin O'Malley urged the city to come together and said he would return early from a trip to Ireland.

"I'm saddened that the City I love is in such pain this night. "All of us share a profound feeling of grief for Freddie Gray and his family," he said in a statement. "We must come together as one City to transform this moment of loss and pain into a safer and more just future for all of Baltimore's people." 

But civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson said ending the riots in Baltimore isn’t the remedy to fix what ails the city and it’s people. 

"It’s regrettable, what’s happening now," Jackson said. "What you’re looking at is the end result of mutual distrust between the people the police, and something needs to happen to contain and stop the rioting ... You’re looking at the actions of cynicism and hopelessness." 

City schools officials said staff would make grief counselors available for students. They canceled classes for Tuesday.

“We are deeply concerned about our students and community, and we hope to treat this situation not only as a teachable moment but also a time for thoughtful reflection on how we can reduce conflict and violence in our society,” schools officials said in a statement.

Baltimore Sun reporters Erica L. Green, Kevin Rector, Ian Duncan, Yvonne Wenger, Jessica Anderson, Eduardo A. Encina, Luke Broadwater, Carrie Wells, Colin Campbell, Liz Bowie, John Fritze, Michael Dresser and Justin Fenton contributed to this story.

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