Two police cars, a cruiser and a transport van, were on fire at the intersection of Baltimore’s North and Pennsylvania Avenues. Dozens of people poured out of a CVS on the same corner, arms full of toilet paper and baby wipes. An older man in a pageboy cap put his hand on my shoulder and walked with me for a few steps. “You’ve gotta get out of here,” he said. “These people are crazy. They want to hurt people who look like you.”
I stood there for a second, fumbling with my notebook, when a kid of about 13 or 14 wearing a gray facemask walked up and chimed in. “They’re not crazy; they’re survivalists. They’re trying to survive. This is the system they were put in.”
By the time I reached North and Pennsylvania—the epicenter of the riots, or at least, the epicenter of the riot I saw—the two cars were already on fire. (The CVS, which was burning as of 7 p.m. this evening, was being looted.) It was just after 5:00 pm, several hours after the close of the funeral service for Freddie Gray. The service had been held at New Shiloh Baptist Church several blocks away. Some of the congregated protesters were children; some were older; some wore red, blue, or black bandanas. Most I talked to were friendly and intent that no one be hurt.
I stood several feet away from the flaming cars; they periodically made ominous popping and hissing sounds as tires deflated and small explosions went off, perhaps caused by ammunition catching fire and discharging. Though I didn’t witness it myself, a radio reporter I met said that one protester stole a shotgun from the back of the van and made off with it. The police, conspicuously inactive, stood in full riot gear further north on Pennsylvania and did not directly engage with the assembled protesters. By 7 p.m., after I left, that had changed; videos on Twitter showed a line of cops advancing on protesters outside the CVS and a clip from a different location showed officers using tear gas. An AP photographer captured police throwing rocks at protesters. There have been reports of injured officers, but I didn’t witness any clashes between protesters and police firsthand.
The impromptu group I was traveling with included a combination of reporters and protesters: Montrel Haygood, a soft-spoken Baltimorean of about 25 who offered to help me around; the aforementioned radio reporter Steve Dorsey; and two other locals.
Hurt-punched in face and iphone stolen by a protester near burning car. Bystanders shielded me from more attacks...able to leave. @CBSNewsApril 27, 2015
While standing in the intersection of North and Penn, Dorsey had been punched in the face, apparently by a protester, and robbed of his iPhone. Immediately after he went down, I saw a group of protesters form a human shield around him, bringing him to his feet and helping him walk to safety. I didn’t actually meet Dorsey until several minutes later; Haygood and others had taken him under an awning on North, east of the burning cars, to recuperate from the hit. After Dorsey was jumped and another photographer was attacked by a teenager close by—Haygood broke up the scuffle before it became serious—we’d decided together that it was becoming too dangerous to stay. As we walked southward, away from the riot’s center, another group of three or four walked parallel to us across the street. Its leader had what looked like a pistol tucked into his waistband.
Dorsey gave me the keys to his car and told me to drive us to the headquarters of local CBS outlet WJZ, where he occasionally works. Last I spoke to Dorsey at around 6:30 p.m., he was on his way to nearby Sinai hospital with a possible dislocated knee. “I want to go to police headquarters,” he told me, eager to get back outside and begin reporting again.
Another man I met, who lived in the neighborhood, expressed solidarity with the protesters’ cause but distaste with their methods. “I’m just a working class guy—a property manager. I have some properties on North Avenue. I did attend the demonstrations on Saturday, because I’ve been pulled over a few times, and the police treat me like shit every time I’m pulled over. But it shouldn’t be like this. All the right wingers—this is exactly what they want. Fox News, Breitbart. We look like hooligans.”
Shortly thereafter, as I stood on the sidewalk at the southeast corner of North and Penn, an older man shouted “There he is!” and chased a grade school kid who was rounding the corner. A small crowd formed, thinking it might have to prevent a bizarrely mismatched fight from breaking out, but it turned out that the man was the child’s father. Hearing that his child was messing around near the looting and the violence, he came and found him, scooped him up, and presumably brought him home to safety.