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  • Baltimore City

Hampden merchants ask city to reconsider curfew

Baltimore's City Hall dome glows behind a city police wagon used for transporting suspects, which has damaged windows from a public uprising (left) while vehicles from jurisdictions throughout the area rest on Fayette Street, barricaded during an uprising following the death of resident Freddie Gray, 25, after he was taken into police custody. Gray suffered a spinal injury and died two weeks ago.
Baltimore's City Hall dome glows behind a city police wagon used for transporting suspects, which has damaged windows from a public uprising (left) while vehicles from jurisdictions throughout the area rest on Fayette Street, barricaded during an uprising following the death of resident Freddie Gray, 25, after he was taken into police custody. Gray suffered a spinal injury and died two weeks ago. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun)

The Hampden Village Merchants Association has sent a letter to Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, asking the city to rethink its curfew in the wake of the Freddie Gray violence and claiming that the curfew's restrictions are hurting the neighborhood's restaurants, bars and other retail establishments.

The city sympathizes, but considers public safety a priority and is keeping the curfew in place, a spokesman responded Thursday.

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The letter, in an email Wednesday by merchants' association president Benn Ray, asks the mayor to "please reconsider the restrictions on the curfew you issued for the city for the rest of this week and weekend. We very much appreciate the concern for public safety. We very much understand that the curfew was issued with the very best of intentions. However, the repercussions it's having on the small business community, and our employees, is devastating.

"Not only have merchant members expressed their concerns to me about the loss of business, but numerous employees, who have lost complete shifts at restaurants and bars, are worried about paying their rent," the letter continues. "The violence we have seen has cost us quite a lot as a city. However, the curfew as it currently stands continues to cost us even more.

"It is our hope that you might consider removing restrictions on Friday and Saturday night, or that you perhaps consider restricting the curfew to 21 and under," the letter concludes. "We very much understand there is a lot going on in this city we all love that requires your attention. But we hope you might spare a moment to reconsider the effects the curfew is having on all of us."

After the April 19 death of Gray, who had been in police custody, sparked rioting and looting, the city imposed a seven-day curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 p.m., starting April 28, for all citizens except emergency personnel and those commuting to and from work for essential functions, including students traveling to or from classes.

"Non-essential business operations should be suspended from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. This includes restaurants, entertainment venues and bars, which should be closed during these times," the curfew order states.

In an emailed response to the group's request, Howard Libit, a spokesman for the mayor's office, wrote, "The mayor is very concerned about the curfew's economic impact on local businesses.She understands the significant impact that it is having. It is not a decision that was made lightly, but the safety of our residents has to be the highest priority. The curfew is reviewed daily.It is a tool that will be used as long as it is needed.When we feel that the curfew is no longer needed, then we will no longer keep it in place."

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who represents much of north Baltimore and was Cced on the merchants' letter, said she too sympathizes with the business community and will take the matter up with the mayor's office and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts' office, but that she supports a curfew.

"I think it's my responsibility to get these kinds of issues before the people who make the decisions, so that is what I will do," Clarke said. "First, we have to be safe. I think right now, we have to stand firm. But this must be a problem across the city in areas with small commercial districts."

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