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Violence in Baltimore; Violent Standoff Between Protesters And Baltimore Police Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 27, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're continuing to follow the violence in Baltimore. There is breaking news on the very day that the family of 25-year-old Freddie Gray bid him adieu in his funeral, laid him to rest. The city of Baltimore, despite their pleas for peace, has become something of a battle zone.

Just moments ago, police were seen dragging away a clearly injured police officer from the scene of what appear to be riots, with protesters filling the streets. Many, according to police and according to the images we're getting on our television from local Baltimore affiliates WJZ and WBAL throwing rocks and bricks and bottles at the police who have been forming barricades at certain checkpoints.

We're getting these live images from Baltimore right now. This scene comes amid other reports that there are rival gangs uniting to target police officers in the wake of Freddie Gray's still unexplained death in police custody.

He died one week ago yesterday.

Let's go to, if we can, CNN's Athena Jones, who's in the streets of Baltimore, has been at times in the middle of the chaos.

Athena, you learned that this was apparently a planned demonstration, and some people were even warned not to go to the area because of a possible riot? Tell us more.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes, I spoke with a bystander who told me that he was warned in Facebook not to be in this area after 2:30, because they're planning a riot. Tell everyone. This is what this bystander's friend told him via Facebook.

The officer at the mall just said it's supposed to start here at Mondawmin and go downtown. So, don't go anywhere near those areas. Tell everybody. Now, I can tell you, Jake, I haven't seen any sort of march take place.

What we learned was that the University of Maryland in Baltimore decided to close early because they'd received an alert from Baltimore police that there would be a 'purge" at the high school here -- we're right outside of a high school -- at 3:00. That seems to be a walkout of sorts, but I have spoken to high school students around here.

And they said they didn't walk out. They left school at the end of the school day. So we have been here for several minutes now. You can see the confrontation with police. A lot of rocks have been thrown, parts of bricks. We have had to duck to avoid being hit in some cases. We have seen more than one police officer injured. At least three, I think, we have seen so far.

We saw some people set a trash can on fire. At one point, there looked to are smoke from smoke bombs. We don't believe it was tear gas, because it didn't seem like tear gas. It didn't affect our eyes, but we have been warned by police that they may end up using tear gas.

I should tell you also, Jake, that there have been helicopters circling this area for at least the last half-hour. We saw a police chopper fly lower than I have seen one fly, maybe three or four stories high, and broadcast that a warning, telling everyone to disperse, this is an unlawful gathering, and asking that folks leave the area.

I can tell you there are a lot fewer students right now than there were maybe half-an-hour ago, when there were far more than 100, many of whom were tussling with police, but many others who were just standing by, some of them confused,some of them not knowing what the plan was, and I have talked to a lot of people who are angry that this is going on, because as Freddie Gray's family has been saying for days now, they don't want to see more violence. They don't believe violence is going to bring justice. And some folks around here have been echoing, echoing that sentiment,



TAPPER: Well, Athena, we have also heard from the Baltimore Police Department that several of their officers have been injured and they're also reporting, the Baltimore police, that the crowd is not obeying police orders for the crowd to disperse.

JONES: They have not -- some of the people seem to have left of their own accord, because they just want to be a part of this.

But there are still quite a few people around here. You can see the police moving towards them. We have witnessed ourselves some police injured. I saw a man lying in the street a few minutes ago with blood. So that is certainly the case that there are several police who have been injured, but, as I mentioned, we haven't seen any arrests yet.

We have seen some of the students leave the area, but there are a lot that still remain. And so we're watching the situation. It's very fluid. Right now, no one's throwing anything, but there have been a lot of objects thrown in the direction of police. Here we go, still throwing, plywood boards, rocks, parts of bricks.

It seems like any number of objects are being thrown. And, again, this is ostensibly a protest against police conduct, and in the Freddie Gray case, but, like I said, a lot of the bystanders here, including young people, are not happy to see what is going on here.


TAPPER: Athena, there were reports earlier in the day that a lot of these protesters were, a lot of these demonstrators were high school- aged students. Who have you seen in the crowd of demonstrators?

Do they appear to be high school-age? Are they various ages, as we have been seeing?

JONES: Absolutely. They are mostly high school students. We arrived on the scene. We are right next to a high school.

That was the original alert, that there was going to be a purge of a high school. So that's what happened. A lot of the folks I was able to speak with on our way here were very young students. One person was in college. One person was an adult, the one who told me about the warning he'd gotten on Facebook.

But this crowd has been mostly made up of young people that I can tell. Not all of them are holding signs, and not all of them seem to be focused on protesting Freddie Gray. Some seem to want to just throw rocks at the police. Here, you see a vehicle that has been damaged by some projectile.

So we're watching the situation, but, yes, it seems to be mostly young people, and I can tell you right now, at least from our vantage point, I see a lot more police than I do people throwing things, but it's clearly not a situation that is under control at this point.

TAPPER: Athena, police have been reporting and telling the media in the last few hours or so that they had heard reports that rival gangs, Crips and Bloods, were uniting with the shared mission of taking out police officers. Have you seen any evidence of that beyond the police reports?

JONES: No, Jake, I haven't.

This doesn't seem to be at all related to that. I have not seen any evidence of that. And when Freddie Gray's funeral was over, a procession of men on motor bikes -- Freddie Gray, we're told, used to like to ride the smaller motor bikes that are sometimes popular among many of the people here in Baltimore.

There was a crowd of riders on the larger motor bikes who said that they wanted to escort the funeral procession to the cemetery. That's often a role played by police, but, no, they were going to block the intersections and escort the hearse and Freddie's family to the cemetery where he was going to be put to rest.

I put it to one of them. Look, what do you think about this warning coming from Baltimore police that somehow gangs are out to target them? This one particular person who was part of that motorcycle procession said, look, we have had problems with police here for years and years. Why didn't they target them then? I don't believe that threat is the credible. That's just one person, but I haven't seen any evidence of any police

being targeted by anyone who seems to be part of a gang. This seems to be a protest by high school students that's getting out of control.

TAPPER: Athena, we see what appears to be smoke flares in the street there, Gwynns Falls Road, and -- I'm sorry -- Gwynns Falls Parkway -- what appear to be something with smoke.

You said earlier that you thought perhaps police were perhaps preparing to fire tear gas into the crowd. What are we seeing in terms of what the police are doing in terms of smoke or flares or tear gas?

JONES: It that doesn't seem as they have deployed tear gas yet.

We don't -- that doesn't seem to be tear gas. At least there doesn't seem to be tear gas in the air. Right now, they're mostly at this intersection now progressing through it. They have warned us to stay at a certain distance behind them so they can guarantee our safety. You can see now I think some projectiles being thrown, a board, several rocks. We don't want to get too close.

But we're basically behind the police line. The demonstrators are on the other side. And we have got -- so we're at a safe distance, but right now they're holding the line. And from what we can see at this exact moment, it doesn't look as though anyone's injured or in the process of being arrested.

You can see here this line moving slowly. The police are saying, move back. See, as they walk along, they're saying move back. And it's a line, at least two or three police officers.

TAPPER: The police issuing a statement just a minute ago.

"The group in the area of Gwynns Falls and Liberty Heights has become aggressive and violent." This is from the Baltimore police. "We are continuing to deploy resources. Several officers have been injured."


We're going to listen to this right now, just take a moment and listen to this confrontation between the citizens of Baltimore and their police officers.

I want to bring in Miguel Marquez, who has also been covering the unrest in Baltimore, in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray, 25- year-old who died while in police custody.

Miguel, there were obviously violent confrontations over the weekend, with stores destroyed and confrontations turning very violent. The family of Freddie Gray had pleaded for peace. The police commissioner had warned outside agitators, outside demonstrators to not try to stir things up, but if you look at the hometowns of the more than 30 people arrested on Saturday into the early morning Sunday, most of them were from Baltimore.

What are you seeing where you are?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That they were from Baltimore, and this is a very, very disturbing development in this -- the neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested over a few weeks -- a couple weeks ago, they were very much over it after Saturday's event. They felt that it got too violent, that it got too heated between protesters and police.

And now this, on the day of Freddie Gray's funeral and just a half- mile from the church where Freddie Gray's was buried, a very, very powerful service for 25-year-old Freddie Gray, and now this. The city is -- is going to have a tough time putting this back in the bottle, if this is how they are reacting on this particular day, because they did not expect it.

I think that the police at Western District, which is within the epicenter of the protests here, most angry, but mostly people protest here, and then now this, at a moment that is -- several different high school students in Baltimore, a mall that is in a predominantly African-American area of Baltimore.

And it is so close to New Shiloh Church, where Mr. Gray's funeral was today. It is, I think, shocking, and I think Baltimoreans are going to have a tough time understanding what is happening in their city, because they certainly -- there was no indication at the beginning of this day that this was going to break out.

There were -- it appears that these are high school students who decided to have a mass walkout and start basically going at police, and they are, Jake.

TAPPER: Miguel, had you heard through your time in the streets talking to protesters, talking to demonstrators, talking to people in the Baltimore community, had you heard about this plan for a protest?

Athena was reporting earlier that she met somebody who said that he had been warned on Facebook to avoid the area after 2:30. Is this something that people in the community knew about?

MARQUEZ: There were fires that were put out. There was some indication that this might be happening.

There was -- the University of Maryland in Baltimore canceled classes because they had heard of a purge or a mass walkout at one of the high schools there. They were concerned that this may be happening, but it wasn't very clear it was going to. There's been so many rumors, so much confusion in this city over the past several days because of the protests and the concerns that officials have had.

On the day of his funeral, I think it would come as a great surprise to everybody that this was actually happening -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, and just to catch people up, if they're just tuning in, obviously, today, was the funeral of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old who died just a week ago yesterday.


TAPPER: Yes, Miguel, go ahead.

MARQUEZ: We are driving through the neighborhood now towards police lines. This is probably not the best place to be at the moment.

We are on Whittier and Reisterstown road. I am looking up the road here at police lines. We have been driving up this direction. And we have now found ourselves in the center of the protesters here, and the police are beginning to come down the lines here.

There's a lot of journalists around here. This is not the place one wants to be in a situation like this. So, I'm looking down the street here. There's a one-way that I'm looking down. Something has happened here. It looks like a journalist may be being attacked, and other journalists are coming to their assistance.

[16:15:03] I'm not really sure what's happening. But there are a hell of a lot of police up ahead of us that are completely -- thank God. We are at the corner of Reisterstown and Gwynns Falls parkway where police, it looks like something out of a -- a movie with police, they've encircled themselves behind shields, behind full riot gear. They are spraying, it looks like, possibly -- possibly -- some sort of tear gas. I actually don't feel that we should get out of the car here, to be quite honest.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're throwing rocks at police. There's a line in the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are throwing rocks at police --

TAPPER: Yes, Miguel -- hold on one second. I want to go to Athena Jones, also in the thick of it down there.

Athena, there is obviously a group of police proceeding down the street en masse. What are you seeing?

JONES: Well, just a few minutes, they are trying to form a V to walk down the street. Now, they seem to be stopping in the middle of this intersection. Several were throwing rocks in this direction who just turned around and headed in the other direction.

One thing I can tell you that's developing in the last few minutes is that we are seeing a few more policemen with gas masks on. We still have seen no sign of actual tear gas being used, but it looks as though here they're trying to block an intersection and trying to disburse this scene, this crowd.

The entire intersection is littered with parts of bricks, with rocks. There's movement now here.

MARQUEZ: (INAUDIBLE) getting out of the car.

JONES: But you can see the middle of this intersection, the various things that have been thrown towards the police. They're now trying to shut off this road. The road that you see here, several dozen young people ran in the opposite direction after throwing these rocks, bricks, et cetera, towards police.

So, it's very unstable, as you can see. Not even the intersections are entirely shut down. So it is by far a situation that is still not under control at all -- Jake.

TAPPER: Athena, stay with us.

I want to bring in former Maryland Police Officer Neill Franklin, a former Maryland State police officer, he's on the ground watching the standoff.

Officer Franklin, tell us what's going on from the perspective of law enforcement.

NEILL FRANKLIN, FORMER MARYLAND STATE POLICE OFFICER (via telephone): Well, from their perspective, one of the things they're going to have to do is eventually disburse the crowd that just moves from one small place to the next. They're bringing in more police officers to help out with this effort, but one van full of police officers just came through the intersection here at Gwynns Falls, and Monroe Street, the back window was immediately shattered by one of these teens throwing a rock at the back of the van. So I hope no one was injured when the glass shattered from that.

But they're forming up in the intersection now of Reisterstown Road and Gwynns Falls and we've got a group of protestors here at the corner of Gwynns Falls and Monroe, and they just threw a rock at one of the local journalists there, and so it looks like now anyone's becoming a potential victim.

But I think the police are going to have to start making some arrests soon, and I think they will once they get more police officers on the scene to help out here. I think that's the only way they're going to be able to demonstrate that they mean business, to start taking people away in handcuffs, unfortunately. But that's where we're at. The point we're at right now because it's becoming a very dangerous situation.

I also hope that the local radio stations and other media begin to make announcements to keep people out of the area. This is important. We have a lot of cars still coming down Gwynns Falls Parkway and hindering the efforts of the police as they try to disburse the crowd.

TAPPER: Officer, and just to remind viewers what we're watching now, is a confrontation with demonstrators throwing projectiles, bottles and rocks and bricks, at Baltimore police officers. This comes just an hour or so after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Baltimore resident killed while in police custody, still somewhat mysterious what exactly happened to him. He died one week ago yesterday.

We're on the phone with former Maryland State Police Officer Neill Franklin.

Officer, you said that the police, you think, will start soon arresting people. Why haven't they yet? FRANKLIN: Well, I think they're still waiting -- for instance, the

Maryland state police, quick response team, just arrived on the scene. They're actually right in front of me here, so I'm going to have to move because of the rocks being thrown at them.

[16:20:07] But we're getting -- we're getting members from other police departments now to mass on the scene and I think you'll start seeing arrests here made rather soon. So I would advise -- and there are a lot of young people just milling around, not actually throwing rocks but they need to disburse, go home as well as everyone else. So I'm going to move here myself. Go to higher ground.

TAPPER: Absolutely, Officer. We appreciate you. We want you to get out of harm's way, but can you give us an idea of why you think we have not seen arrests as of now? We've seen individuals throwing objects at police, but the police have been holding back, standing in a crowd. Are they doing that because they don't want the situation to escalate further?

FRANKLIN: Well, in order to plan for making arrests you have to have the right number of officers on the scene. You have to have your strategy down. You have to have a good plan of how you're going to go about doing this. You want to have to have a number of different teams that are responsible for different tasks when you're trying to do such an effort.

And I think they're probably getting to that point very soon. So it's not just that you can gist start grabbing people and making arrests. You've got to have -- it's got to be done in an orderly, planned fashion, and I think we're just about there. So hopefully these young people get the message and disperse.

TAPPER: The Baltimore police issued a statement a minute ago saying that they are asking motorists in Baltimore to avoid the area of Gwynns Falls, Reisterstown, Liberty Heights, take ultimate routes saying several people in the group of demonstrators are reported to be armed with sticks, bricks, other weapons, and the police are hearing reports that members of the group of demonstrators are now setting small items on fire in the area. If you're just joining us, you're watching live from CNN Baltimore affiliates, WJZ, WBAL, you're looking live images from the streets of Baltimore, demonstrators throwing objects at the Baltimore police department.

We have two reporters down there as well as a former Maryland Police Officer Neill Franklin telling us what's going on.

I want to bring in former FBI assistant director and CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes.

Tom, as you're watching this situation unfold, what are you observing?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST (via telephone): Jake, what I think is happening over several days a almost an intimidation of police. They've been afraid -- too many police out there -- they've been afraid to put body armor or helmets on because it looks mean. They're afraid to use armored cars for protection because it looks militarized. And I think now, they're in a position where they're weak and they're not really able to make the arrests that they need to make right now for people that are throwing bottles and bricks and other debris at them.

I think now we see them trying to catch up and wait for more backup police to arrive, and to suit up and be prepared to make tactical maneuvers to make arrests. I think the police have allowed the narrative of how mean they are and how all of this is their fault, I think they've taken it a little too far and have not protected the community.

TAPPER: Tom, I wanted to get your reaction to something that the mayor of Baltimore, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said over the weekending a giving those who wished to destroy space to do that. These comments came after some violent, violence and vandalism in which storefronts and vehicles were destroyed by demonstrators.

What does that mean? Giving those who wish to destroy space to do that? Is that something that law enforcement or public officials ever talk about?

Meanwhile, we were seeing -- Tom, before you do that, so you know, we just saw a group of individuals, young men, throwing objects at a police car on a street. The car -- the driver now appears to be driving away. So hopefully he wasn't injured by what happened, but it was a group that ran up and -- violently threw rocks or some such projectiles at police.

We are now witnessing, it looks like, an arrest of an individual by Baltimore police. This comes after several minutes of these demonstrators or protestors throwing objects at police.

Tom, I'm sorry to interrupt, but I did wonder while we were talking about police tactics and in your view of police being afraid to react or seeming afraid to react to some of this violence against them, what do you think the mayor meant when she referred to giving protestors who wish to destroy space to do that?

[16:25:02] FUENTES: Yes, Jake, I think that statement is so absurd. I don't know how to respond. I would just let her clarify that. Does she want to serve up police cars, or other public buildings in Baltimore or public officials like the police, turn them into pinatas for the people to come out and whack at them so they can get their aggression out of their system? I've never heard a statement like that and I think it's ridiculous.

TAPPER: Is there ever a strategy to cede some territory, to allow demonstrators to commit violent acts against properties, so that for instance -- and I'm just speculating here because obviously I have no idea what the mayor meant -- so that these people are not injured, is that ever a strategy?

FUENTES: No. I don't know anyone that would allow such a thing because -- you know, it would be so difficult to contain, to allow property to be destroyed in the interests of saving lives. That would lead to danger to the lives there of the police, of the people, and what property would that be? People own these businesses and residences, the vehicles.

You know, is the mayor offering up other people's property to be destroyed? I don't know. I think she needs to clarify that.

But the police under no circumstances -- they are there to protect peaceful protests. Protests that are within the, you know, the guidelines as specified by the Supreme Court, several decisions, going back to when I was a police officer and had to stand in front of them and protect them in Illinois. So, you know, that's one thing, but when it turns violent, that's it --

TAPPER: Look at this. Hold on one second, Tom, I'm sorry. We're watching right now a bunch of crowd jumping on a police car and trying to kick in the windows.

I can't tell if -- there isn't anybody in that police car. It doesn't appear to be moving but people with sticks or bats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Several of them attacking this vehicle, jumping on the hood, smashing the windows.

TAPPER: If you're joining us you're looking at live footage from WJZ, a CNN Baltimore affiliate of demonstrators attacks a police car. This comes on the same day as the funeral of Freddie Gray, 25-year-old Baltimore man who die while in police custody. His family has pleaded for peace, saying that they don't want this kind of retribution played out on real time on our television screens rights now. One hopes that there aren't police officers in that car. We don't know right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been trying to keep an eye on it. Our original point of interest was about a block, right in front of Mondawmin. Now we're trying to keep an eye on at least a mile, where all activity is going on. Hold on. I have to talk to somebody. I'm on the air, Steve. I'll be with you in a second.

TAPPER: Tom, I don't know if you're seeing the images on this -- on the TV screen right now, coming in live from Baltimore of a mob growing, attacking a police car.

FUENTES: Yes, I think, Jake, this is just becoming increasingly dangerous, and the mob is taking on a life of its own. It's no longer -- I think the adjective of protestors or demonstrators doesn't apply to that kind of behavior.

Now, we're getting up to where we have rioters, and they're endangering the public safety, public property, private property. This is getting too far out of control. I think.

TAPPER: Tom, stay with us.

I want to bring in "Baltimore Sun" reporter Erica Green, who has been covering these protests. She was maced during the protests.

Erica, where are you right now? Tell us what you're seeing, and what happened to you earlier? ERICA GREEN, REPORTER, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": I'm sorry. One second.

I'm on Gwynns Falls Parkway, right outside the Mondawmin Mall, which is where the protest was supposed to begin. There was a notification that went out students would be gathering here after school.

I got here around 3:30. When I got here, it was much more than a gathering. It was, frankly, just an all-out war between police officers and students in the neighborhood. Bricks, rocks, glass, tires, trash cans, anything that could be thrown was thrown. I saw officers badly injured. I've seen journalists assaulted. It's just been absolutely insane.