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Baltimore Riots: Mayor Criticised For Response

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By Sky News US Team

Baltimore's mayor has come under fire for the city's response to riots that left businesses in ruins and 20 officers injured.

 

More than 200 people, including 34 juveniles, were arrested on Monday night after clashes with police spiralled into chaos across the city.

On Tuesday, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake held off on requesting National Guard troops as the violence escalated.

National Guard troops fanned out across the city a day after the riots

"The mayor of Baltimore had the city of Baltimore police on the ground. Quite frankly, they were overwhelmed," Mr Hogan said.

"All the rest of the (boots) on the ground came from us."

The governor said he called Ms Rawlings-Blake repeatedly on Monday but she refused to request troops until three hours after violence erupted.

On Tuesday, the mayor stressed to reporters the need to respond in a way that did not incite more unrest.

"It's a very delicate balancing act, when we have to make sure that we're managing but not increasing and escalating the problem," she said.

The African-American mayor, who grew up in the city of 620,000 people 40 miles (64km) from Washington DC, has imposed a one-week curfew.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts appeared to come to the mayor's defence at a news conference on Tuesday.

"My mayor takes a lot of shots," he said. "She's courageous enough to stand here and take it."

When asked why police did not respond faster to the violence, Mr Batts said: "Because they were 14,15 and 16-year-old kids out there."

Ms Rawlings-Blake did not take questions from reporters during the afternoon news conference.

Gov Hogan declared a state of emergency on Monday night, and by Tuesday morning some 2,000 National Guard troops descended on Baltimore.

It marked the first time since 1968, when violence erupted in the wake of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, that Guard troops had taken up positions in the city.

The riots on Monday followed a week of mostly peaceful protests over the death of Freddie Gray.

Mr Gray, 25, died on 19 April from a severe spinal injury he suffered while in police custody.

His death fuelled a growing national debate on the use of US police tactics, particularly in regard to officers’ interactions with young black men.

On Saturday, a small group of people splintered from a peaceful demonstration and began smashing shop windows, hurling objects at officers and destroying police vehicles.

In light of the mounting tensions, security experts said the city should have been more prepared for an outbreak of violence.

Michael Balboni, a former senior homeland security and law enforcement official in New York, said: "With the circumstances as tragic as they were with Mr Gray, I think it's fair for the city to have expected something serious."

Rioters on Monday set fire to nearly 150 vehicles and 19 structures.

Several local businesses were looted, and a centre for elderly people that was under construction was burned to the ground.

It was the worst such violence in the US 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.

"I understand anger, but what we're seeing isn't anger," Ms Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said.

"It's disruption of a community. The same community they say they care about, they're destroying. You can't have it both ways."

By early afternoon on Tuesday, protesters had begun gathering in different parts of the city.

Police in full riot gear were dispersed to help keep the calm.

"We're not going to leave the city unprotected,” Mr Hogan said.

Maryland National Guard spokesman Lieutenant Charles Kohler said up to 5,000 troops could be deployed if necessary.

State Police said they were putting out a call for up to 500 additional law enforcement officers from Maryland and as many as 5,000 from around the mid-Atlantic region.

School were closed on Tuesday and the city’s Major League Baseball team, the Orioles, postponed its second game in as many nights.

A game scheduled for Wednesday night will be played as scheduled, the team said, but will be closed to the public.

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