In Baltimore, Md., Monday morning opened with the funeral for 25-year-old Freddie Gray and closed with sections of the city aflame.
On April 12, three Baltimore police officers on patrol bikes arrested Gray. A video of Gray’s arrest shows him in pain as he’s being loaded into a police vehicle. A half-hour later, paramedics were called, and it was discovered that Gray’s spine was 80 percent severed at his neck, an injury he received while in police custody—how exactly he received it hasn’t been determined. Gray died April 19, and the Department of Justice is currently looking into whether any prosecutable civil rights violation occurred.
While numerous peaceful protests in response to Gray’s death earlier this month have taken place, large parts of the city were engulfed in violent confrontation yesterday. Even though there were calls by Gray’s family and other community leaders in the community to end the violence, looting and property damage was widespread. There have also been reports of more than a dozen police officers being hurt during the riots, and as of yesterday, one officer was unresponsive after he was injured.
Photographer CJ Treasure, who lives near the city of Baltimore, visited the area last night and took the photos in this story. Here, he talks to us about what he saw.
Follow @OGSeige for more photographs from events in Baltimore.
Are you from Baltimore?
I’m from about 15 minutes away.
What did you see? What was the atmosphere of the area?
Last night was ridiculous. I got to Baltimore around 10:30 p.m. My friend—he’s a photographer as well—happened to meet up with other journalists. One of them had a police radio, and every 10 minutes we would get distress calls saying that there were cars on fire, and buildings. The first fire we went to was the photo of the firefighters. That photo was of a senior citizens’ home that was under construction and was supposed to be finished this year. Rioters and looters literally burned it to the ground. They attacked the place four times in one night. [Ed. note: Fire officials have not determined that this fire was related to fires elsewhere in the city.]
Four times in one night?
They kept hitting the same spot four times—they want things to literally burn down. It was near the intersection at Fulton Ave. in West Baltimore, which is like one of the worst areas where the National Guard was called to. In this intersection, before the fire, there were literally hundreds of kids, from ages 14 to 20, who were just looting all of the pharmacies, the liquor stores, all of the family businesses; everything was getting destroyed. A couple of people were taken out of their own cars at stop lights, they would crash into the intersection, and a couple rioters had kerosene in their hands, in bottles, and they pulled the people out and threw the bottles on the cars, setting them ablaze in the middle of the intersection. On one side of the street you had all rioters and on the other side of the street you had the National Guard, and the SWAT team with riot shields.
Every time an emergency vehicle came by, or a cop, people threw bottles, anything they could get their hands on, so they wouldn’t get to the fire. Fire trucks were getting destroyed as well. People were cutting the fire hoses connected to the fire hydrant. People were going up to them and cutting them, and water would go everywhere.
White photographers and journalists were targeted a lot. People were chanting, “No white people!” Some of the reporters who weren’t black didn’t listen, and I told them, “Listen, you can’t be in this area. It’s unsafe.” I just happen to be lucky, I’m black and I blend in, and I wore track pants and a hoodie to blend in with my camera. White reporters with nothing but notepads were getting punched and were getting robbed. One white lady was robbed when she was recording video of a group of teens. The teens crowded her and pushed her down and stole her bag. Luckily, the way they ran, they ended up running into the SWAT team and they were captured, and she recovered her bag. There were a lot of hate crimes, I would say.
The rioters were happy that they were in front of the camera. I got a shot of this one guy, in the intersection with the car exploded behind him, and he really wanted me to capture the moment. He said, “Look, I’m a black man in America, what you’re seeing in Baltimore city is what we have in our hearts, and it’s just fire and hate. The city’s been hurting for a while, and now it’s time to express it.” That’s the reason why they’re doing all of this, in a way. It’s getting out of hand.
How did you feel while you were there?
It got to a point that the rioters/gang members said no cameras were allowed at all, they didn’t want anybody on their block. They were going to charge the police officers with riot gear, so they were just like, “Everybody just needs to get out of the way. Clear the area. We’re going to head over there.” It got out of hand when they were throwing bottles at me, and any car that drove by the intersection would just get destroyed. I learned not to be afraid of my own people. Being black in that environment was a plus, because it definitely wasn’t safe. It took courage to be in that situation. I had to trust my people not to hurt me because of my skin.
The rioters are reportedly a minority of the peaceful protestors. Did you see any of the protestors at night?
All of the peaceful protesters were protesting around the baseball stadium, Camden Yards. It’s downtown and a ways from the neighborhoods. The peaceful protesters did their thing, it was great, but it got to a point where everybody grouped up over there—all of the rioters, all of the peace protesters—and the police couldn’t determine what was going on. There were baseball game last night and we had crowds coming in from other cities for this game and it had to be canceled. There was a big brawl between the police department and between the protesters and rioters as well, because the cops don’t know who is who. Things got messed up between all of that. And police have a hard time trusting what’s happening. They said they have no control of their city anymore. They said we lost all hope and order needed to be restored, and hopefully the National Guard can do that for them. But it looks like it will only get worse, and they’re not going to stop. If the SWAT team doesn’t scare them, I’m not sure the National Guard will. It’s going to end in a bad way, in my opinion.
There’s a difference between speaking your mind, protesting, and looting and destroying your own neighborhood. Black people already have a bad rep, and for the nation to go on CNN and see what’s happening in this American city doesn’t help our case. We’re already the minority, and acting up isn’t solving anything. It just makes things worse. People are going to remember this 20 years from now. Our kids are going to learn about what happened in Baltimore in history class, because people don’t know how to control themselves. The sad thing about it, these people who are looting and setting things on fire, these aren’t adults. They’re 14-year-old kids, in high school, breaking curfew. They would leave class and go straight to the streets with their friends and start causing chaos. They have no guidance.
So what you saw was more of the rioters than the protesting, at least at that time?
Yeah. I was there at prime time.
How were the firefighters and police officers in your pictures handling the situation?
Firefighters, they were fine. They were just doing their job. I remember casually approaching them—other photographers and reporters were going up to them as well—and asking questions. If you have a camera, you don’t come off as harmful, so they trust you in the area, because you’re documenting what’s happening.
The cops, on the other hand, they were really serious. They said they were getting harassed all day, and people would throw things at them and kick them, and these are cops with riot shields, so they’re first in line. Every time I would approach them, they would shine a flashlight at me, like 10 officers, and they would ask what I was doing. They’d say, “We’ve been harassed all day, so just be careful and make sure you don’t cross this line.” So, if you don’t come off as harmful, they’ll ease up on you and watch you do your thing. They’re there 24-7, they were on a 24-hour patrol on that one street, which is crazy.
Were there rioters in the area when you took the photos of the firefighters and officers?
No, that was the aftermath. They were patrolling. But right after the fires [went out], people would reset them. They were just getting distress calls all over, from recurring fires that they had already put out. It was a never-ending thing.
You got there at 10:30. What time did you leave?
Did you have trouble leaving?
On my way home, with my friend, I told him, “We pushed our luck, because we were literally in the trenches.” On our way home, this Rite Aid happened to be in flames. We were the first on the scene, no one was there. The fire marshall showed up and he asked if we knew what happened, and we told him we just got there, just like him. He called, like, four volunteer firefighters to put out this Rite Aid. One of the firefighters said that it was one of those spots that was set ablaze again, that it was their third call that night at the same place. People were looting it all night. This was really crazy, honestly.
It’s violent. These peaceful protesters make it seem like they’re doing the right thing, but what’s happening down there is tragic. It’s dangerous. Especially if you’re white. You’re getting targeted. People are out to get you, they’re trying to hurt you because of the color of your skin.
Was your friend white?
I’m actually going back to the city today with one of my white friends. We’re going to take him around so he can get some footage. We’re going to hope for the best that nothing happens to him.
How do you feel about going back after last night?
I feel it’s safer in the day. People want to make the 5 o’clock news, so they’re going to be out doing crazy things. I want to be there to document what’s happening during the day. I caught what’s happening during the nighttime and I need to catch what’s happening during the day. The things you see on the news are what’s going on during the day.
Were there any moments you saw anti-violence groups come out to stop the rioters, like from a church or something?
There were people burning down churches, actually. People bringing down churches and breaking into ATMs. They completely ransacked their own corner store. Like the store they go to every morning. They literally destroyed it. It’s sad.
So you didn’t see the anti-violence groups come out?
None. I think at nighttime, it’s when they call it a night and stay indoors. Nighttime is when the animals come out to cause a ruckus.
What are you holding in the picture? Is that a canister of some sort?
It’s a rubber bullet, a fresh, actual rubber bullet. It was light when I picked it up, but it looked like it would hurt. The police fired off a couple of shots. It comes at you fast but I don’t think anyone got hit.