BALTIMORE – Residents attempted to restore a sense of normalcy in a city roiled by unrest in recent weeks, with the mayor on Sunday lifting the nightly curfew and re-assuring the public that the heightened law enforcement presence on the streets of Charm City will soon be scaled back.
The curfew that lasted five days has been rescinded “effective immediately,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake tweeted Sunday morning, adding “My goal has always been to not have the curfew in place a single day longer than was necessary. I believe we have reached that point today.”
Rawlings-Blake marked the end of the curfew by appearing at the re-opening of Mondawmin Mall, which has been shuttered for days since being at the center of looting and vandalism earlier in the week.
“We will get better, and we’ll do it as one Baltimore,” the mayor later said in a press conference while acknowledging the recent peaceful demonstrations. “This is a great day for this community,” she said.
Many residents embraced the curfew lift and were anxious to return to work at Mondawmin Mall after protests erupted in the city two weeks ago following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man who died of an unexplained spinal cord injury sustained while in police custody.
Following Maryland Gov Larry Hogan’s call to make Sunday a day of “prayer and peace,” local religious leaders planned to hold an open-air church service to continue the nonviolent streak of protests seen on the streets of Baltimore.
Hogan was in Baltimore Sunday and attended Catholic mass in the neighborhood where Gray was arrested last month. “Since [Monday,] I’ve seen incredible acts of kindness,” Hogan said upon leaving the church. “I’ve seen a community that cares about each other … It’s a great way to end the week.”
A clear turning point from protests marked by unrest turning into peaceful – even celebratory – demonstrations came Friday when six police officers involved in Gray’s arrest were charged Friday with crimes ranging from murder to assault.
Baltimore’s City Hall was filled with music and dancing Saturday as hundreds of community members and out-of-town supporters celebrated the charges brought against the six officers. The scene – much like a block party in the heart of Baltimore – stood in stark contrast to the fires, looting and violence seen earlier in the week. By nightfall, the scene turned into pockets of unrest, with handfuls of protesters arrested for resisting the 10 p.m. curfew. The police used pepper spray to subdue one man who would not leave the intersection of West North and Pennsylvania Avenues, and a small group of others began throwing rocks and bottles across the intersection toward police officer.
While breathing a collective sigh of relief that protests on the streets of Baltimore were largely peaceful, some residents were hopeful that the decision to lift the curfew was not premature.
Related: Where does Baltimore go from here?
“I wish maybe the curfew would have lasted a little longer so everybody really could feel at ease,” said Priscilla Bowles, a lifelong Baltimore resident.
Abubakr Mian said he was excited to return to work at Mondawmin Mall Sunday, but found the glass case shattered to his iPhone accessory kiosk. Though some items were stolen, Mian said he did not condemn the actions of the vandals because they were able to raise public awareness to the issues plaguing Baltimore.
“I feel it was effective,” he said. “There’s a certain amount of violence that can do more than nonviolence.”
Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland said Sunday that the city of Baltimore had done a good job recovering from the violence seen earlier in the week, and added that he had a lot of faith in Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who announced Friday that the officers involved in Gray’s arrest would face criminal charges. Despite this progress, Cummings said more work needed to be done to make young people feel included.
“I feel their pain,” Cummings told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “Just the other day, a young man told me, ‘Mr. Cummings, I feel like I’m in my coffin, trying to claw out of it.’ And that’s not the way that we want our children to feel.”
While peace and normalcy seem to now be returning to Baltimore, many feel the past week’s events are yet another example of deep-seated issues that exist in the relationship between law enforcement and the African-American community – problems that are bound to bubble up again. According to a new NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll, a whopping 96% of Americans said that they expected more racially-charged clashes around the country this summer.
Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner said Sunday that he believed the unrest in Baltimore reflected a national crisis.
“Public servants should not violate the law,” Boehner told “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd. “And if these charges are true, it’s outrageous and it’s unacceptable,” he said.
The speaker also said that the situation was made possible by “50 years of liberal policies that have not worked to help the very people that we want to help.”
Gray was arrested April 12 for alleged possession of a switchblade, according to police documents. He died seven days later from a severe spinal cord injury sustained in police custody. Mosby said Friday that the knife was not in fact a switchblade and therefore permitted under Maryland law, making Gray’s arrest illegal.
All six of the officers charged have been released from custody on bond. Office Caesar Goodson, who drove the police van that carried Gray to a local precinct, faces the most severe charge, second-degree depraved heart murder, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. Other charges include manslaughter and second-degree assault.