President Barack Obama said there was “no excuse” for the violent rioting Monday on the streets of Baltimore, which saw looting and fires break out after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died of a severe spinal injury while in police custody a little over a week ago. At the same time, the president put the crisis in Maryland’s largest city into a national context, focusing on unemployment, poverty and the education gap that plagues some communities of color.
“We can’t just leave this to the police,” Obama said Tuesday in a White House press conference with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “There are some police departments that have to do some searching. There are some communities that have to do some soul searching. But our country needs to do some soul searching. This is not new. It’s been going on for decades.”
Riots broke out Monday evening in Baltimore following Gray’s funeral. There were more than 200 arrests throughout a night filled with looting, destruction on the streets and fires set to 144 vehicles and 15 buildings. Twenty police officers were injured in the clashes, Baltimore PD spokesman Capt. Eric Kowalczyk told reporters Tuesday.
The unrest led to a state of emergency in Baltimore, with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan deploying the National Guard to the city’s streets. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has instated a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., beginning Tuesday night through the week, and to be extended as necessary.
Obama, who said he spoke with the mayor and governor on Monday, condemned the shift from the weekend’s peaceful protests to Monday’s violent unrest. “It is counterproductive when individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot. They’re not protesting, they’re not making a statement, they’re stealing. When they burn down a building, they’re committing arson. And they’re destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities that rob jobs and opportunity from people in that area.”
Obama added that broader change was needed to lift up under-served communities. “If we really want to solve the problem, we could, it would just require everybody saying this is important and significant and we don’t just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns, we don’t just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped,” the president said.