BALTIMORE, Md. — A force of 2,000 soldiers from the Maryland National Guard has activated to assist efforts by the Maryland State Police to prevent a repeat of last night's violence in Baltimore.
Guard troops are posted at City Hall and throughout the city and various neighborhoods. The law enforcement presence at City Hall, along with a throng of media, community activists and political leaders — including Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Rev. Al Sharpton — created a bustling but peaceful scene on Tuesday afternoon.
Violence erupted the day before during the April 27 funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died of a traumatic spinal injury he suffered while in police custody.
The Maryland Guard's Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 175 Infantry Regiment, had set up in an area of operations including City Hall, Johns Hopkins Medial Center, and other parts of downtown under the leadership of 1st Lt. Sean Gramm and 1st Lt. Henry Hensley.
"None of our areas have received any kind of significant incidents throughout the day, which is a good thing. We're now stabilized and setting up logistics," Gramm told Army Times.
Gramm told Army Times on Tuesday afternoon that interactions with civilians were positive so far. Gramm said there was one incident outside his company's AO where one person tried to set off a rudimentary Molotov cocktail. That individual was stopped before lighting it, Gramm said.
His soldiers have focused on preparations for the evening, when things may escalate.
"They could either just be like, 'We're done we had our night of it,'" Hensley said. "Or maybe they don't. There's no way to read into that. There's been a very sophisticated dynamic response procedures set up throughout the day. I think they realize that too, and are probably being more cautious."
Cummings, whose district includes much of Baltimore, told Army Times he saw the Guard's mission as necessary, but also said he doesn't like seeing the city this way.
"It doesn't make me feel very good, but I realize that we have to keep functioning, and people have to be safe, and if that's what it takes for the time being to accomplish that, then we have to do it," Cummings said. "But I do not like seeing what looks to be a militarized zone in the city."
Maryland's Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings says the destruction in Baltimore was caused by "some people who took advantage of a situation" and that there are bigger issues politicians need to be looking at moving forward.
He noted that after the Ferguson riots in Missouri, there was an emphasis on dealing with the issue of militarization of law enforcement, which was said to fan the flames.
"We were trying to get rid of the weapons and the military look in our community. But for the time being, we need to do what we are doing, and we'll get through this. And we'll look for a better day."
The Guard soldiers were prepared, particularly from recent operational lessons, said Maj. John McDaniel of 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment, Maryland National Guard.
"We have a robust set of lessons learned from the actions in Ferguson, Missouri, by the Missouri National Guard," McDaniel said. "We have used that as a platform to inform our soldiers and better prepare them for the environment they may face out here in Baltimore.
"I focused on the operational lessons to make sure we had good coordination with law enforcement about our posture as we come into the area, and how our soldiers present ourselves," McDaniel said. "That helped us inform them about how they would probably want to approach situations and allowed us to give them guidance on just everything from how they wear their equipment, what their weapons posture is as far as where that weapon is placed, and how they interact with the public. It goes a long way towards how a situation works out."
McDaniel said the soldiers are ready to respond, but he hopes there won't be a night like Monday's.
"Our soldiers have been trained to be fairly adaptive to situations as things go in the wrong way," McDaniel said. "We're hopeful that things have calmed down. I look forward to a boring night. ... We'll see."