US & Canada

Baltimore riots: What's it like living under a curfew?

National Guard in Baltimore Image copyright AP

Baltimore has begun a week-long nightly curfew, after unrest sparked by the death of a young black man in police custody. It's unusual for a US city of nearly three-quarters of a million people to clear its streets. So what was the first night like?

The Orioles played against the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday at Camden Yards. But no fans were there.

"We made Major League history," says Heather Choinski, a waitress at a restaurant, Luna Del Sea, on West Pratt Street near the stadium.

A Major League Baseball franchise without fans looks odd. A ball flew into the bleachers behind the third-base dugout and rolled away. No-one picked it up.

Yet this week Baltimore made history in other ways, too.

For the first time since 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated, National Guard troops were deployed. They were there to keep the peace - and to enforce a curfew.

Riots broke out on Monday after the funeral of Freddie Gray, who suffered an unexplained spinal cord injury when arrested.

The curfew was imposed the following night. No-one is allowed on the street from 10:00 at night to 5:00 in the morning, except for emergency workers and people who are going to class or work. The no-go will be in effect until 4 May.

Since the curfew began, violence has gone down. And so has business.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A few dozen people defied instructions to go home

Tony Assadi, the owner of Luna Del Sea, stands in the doorway of his restaurant on Wednesday afternoon. A big-screen television behind him shows a news ticker: "State of emergency".

Mr Assadi said that on Monday, the first night of the curfew, his restaurant had a few customers. They left early.

"We went dark between nine and nine thirty," he says. "For a restaurant that's normally open till two, that's weird."

He looks frustrated - and steps outside. "This is just the beginning," he says, explaining that he and other business owners are being "dragged into a future economy nightmare".

Mr Assadi says he's spoken with insurance agents about the damage done to his business during the riots - including the demolition of two lion statues outside the bar. But the insurance can't compensate for a lack of customers.

"They're going to cover what is lost in property damage. Nothing else," he says.

"The lions will get fixed," I say.

Ms Choinski shrugs. "Lions aren't going to do any good," she says. "Not if the doors are shut."

A sense of anxiety permeates the city the day after the curfew, contributing to the challenging - at times surreal - atmosphere for the restaurants, offices and businesses.

"To accommodate a Baltimore City curfew, we will be adjusting our hours," says a sign taped on a glass door at a Starbucks.

Some stores, such as H&M and Urban Outfitters, were temporarily closed even during the non-curfew hours.

But it's not just shopping that's being curtailed by the curfew.

Rebecca Wright and her fiance, Adnaan Moin, both of them physicians who are finishing up their training in radiology, had planned on a wedding in Baltimore on Saturday.

They'd invited 220 guests, with a reception planned from 5:30 to 11:30 at a grand Baltimore venue.

Then the National Guard arrived - and the curfew was imposed. "We had a few guests reach out," she says. "A lot of out-of-towners were quite concerned."

She started frantically looking for a new venue - and now they've moved their wedding to a hotel in Washington DC.

Wright says she wanted to get married in Baltimore because she met her fiance while he was studying at the University of Maryland Baltimore. "That's where our whole love story is," she says.

Image caption The Baltimore Orioles won, but there was no applause

But it seemed less fairy-tale-like this week, which is why she started thinking about other options.

When I called her early on Wednesday afternoon, she was in a hurry to get off the phone. "I'm looking at venues," she says, sounding slightly panicked. "I'm in the middle of a walk-through meeting."

By the late afternoon, though, she'd found a place in Washington. Her problem has been solved.

Meanwhile things have quietened down in Baltimore - and some of the unease has melted away.

Uniformed men in anti-riot gear were milling around a park near the inner harbour late on Wednesday afternoon, watching women in bikinis play volleyball.

And several National Guardsmen were sprawled out on the grass, taking it easy.

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