US & Canada

Baltimore riots: 'My customers ransacked my shop'

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Media captionThe day after riots, Baltimore residents look to rebuild.

Some looted and ransacked the city. Others waited for the chaos to subside, then started to rebuild.

Joseph Adeola stayed in west Baltimore even after his store, Best Care Pharmacy, was robbed a few months ago. He's invested in the neighbourhood and in the country, too. His family is from Nigeria, and he has tried to make a new life here.

Now he's staring at his business in ruins.

His car, a Ford Escape, is parked in front of the place. It has a bumper sticker that says: "Land of the Free because of the Brave".

Riots in west Baltimore broke out not long after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a man who died of a spinal cord injury while in the custody of police.

Image caption Joseph Adeola examines damage to his shop
Image caption A lottery machine was destroyed in Joseph Adeola's store

Some of the worst rioting took place on Pennsylvania Avenue, a strip of land where the pharmacy is located.

The pharmacy is across the street from an elementary school and AME Zion Church. A sign in front says: "God is here."

Adeola stands near the front door of his store and picks up a rock that's slightly larger than his hand and holds it up. "They had big rocks." He tosses it on a patch of dried grass near the store.

"They started throwing," he says.

Adeola walks inside. A wooden stool has fallen on its side. Pill bottles are scattered across the floor, along with a yellow bucket and a printer. A lottery machine is bashed up. A security system beeps without stopping.

He says: "They took everything - everything they can get their hands on."

Image copyright European photopress agency
Image caption Volunteers have been out in force

Hundreds of people came through the area. They stopped their cars in front of the place and smashed it to bits.

During the looting he waited in a nearby parking lot. "We are watching them," he says. "We can't do anything."

He told the police, but they weren't able to help.

"The police say: 'What can we do? They're looting everywhere.'"

He says the same people who looted the place - they're also customers who have been in the store.

He laughs, but it's a laugh without much feeling.

Not far away from the pharmacy, Cynthia Davis, who works on an assembly line at a factory, and her stepson, Rysheen Perry, 16, are sweeping up.

She says they were at home when she heard about the looting on the news. At eight in the morning she brought him outside.

Image caption Cynthia Davis and Rysheen Perry clean up their neighbourhood in west Baltimore

"When I heard how bad it was, I said, 'We're going to go help the community'," she says.

"I said: 'You just do the picking up, boy. I do the sweeping'." She is holding a red-handled broom with tattered bristles, and he is carrying a white garbage bag.

Wearing jeans and black gloves, he bends down and holds out the trash bag. Small white pills are scattered across the pavement. A small chicken bone, with the meat chewed off, is lying nearby.

She says: "I don't know what was wrong with those kids. They lose their minds."

Davis used to be a protester. She worked 20 hours a week, holding a sign on a street near city hall and demanding that carpenters get better wages. She was paid to do it, making $8.50 an hour, but she also believed in it.

'I felt like I was doing something for a cause," she says.

This is different. "We're hurting ourselves. You're going bout it the wrong way. It's not going to solve the problem. If you hurt the stores in our community."

As they are cleaning up the street, a neighbour stops to talk to them. Evette Warsaw, who is 52 and is on methadone, looks at the debris - and then at the ransacked pharmacy.

"How can I get it if they burn the place up?" she says.

Image caption Evett Warsaw relied on the pharmacy for her medication

Another woman, Margaret King, 83, who is sitting on a nearby bench and is waiting for a bus, is angry. "I saw them taking stuff out of the store," she says, describing the anarchy that unfolded in the night.

"They cleaned it out," she says. "So we don't have no store to go to. They're doing all this because the boy got killed, and it ain't going to bring him back."

She says she is worried about what will happen next - and then gives me a warning.

"You be careful," she tells me. "Somebody [could] come along and shoot you down."

A woman named Valerie Barber walks by the smashed-up front of the pharmacy and shakes her head in disgust. "No sense," she says, glancing at the store. "Their grandmothers go here."