Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings; Violent Protests in Baltimore; Looting, Violence on Streets of Baltimore. Aired 18-19:00p ET
Aired April 27, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But it's happened, and we're watching it unfold.
ANNOUNCER: And this is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, rioting, violent rioting under way in Baltimore.
Once again, we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
Images hard for us to believe happening in an American city, in an American city right now.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
If you're joining us just now, we're watching these pictures, the live pictures, the looting, the lawlessness in this major American city, one of the largest cities in the United States. The police commissioner reportedly is bringing in 1,000 more police officers, we're told. They're going to need them as this violence unfolds and 40 more Maryland State Troopers also being called in, but that's certainly not enough.
Officers are responding to what police now say are unprovoked attacks by criminals. They have thrown bottles, rocks. They have smashed and burned patrol cars and other civilian vehicles.
As of right now, at least seven police officers are injured, one of them said to be unconscious. The unrest erupting just hours after the funeral of Freddie Gray, the suspect whose death in police custody has ignited outrage over these past couple weeks.
CNN Athena Jones is right in the middle of what's going on. She's joining us on the phone.
Athena, tell us what you see and what you know.
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
I can tell you we moved from the location near the high school where all of this began at around 3:00 this afternoon. We are now moving to another location. Many of the state troopers and Baltimore police pulled out of the location where we were just a few blocks away.
We have now come to a new location where the police seem to have moved to a big crowd of people. We are just now arriving here on this scene. But I should tell you, Wolf, that this all began around 3:00. We got word that high school students were walking out and planning to demonstrate and so when we arrived on the scene, we saw several people throwing all kinds of projectiles at the police, rocks, pieces of concrete, pieces of bricks, pieces of wood, sticks.
They were setting trash cans on fire, throwing trash cans in the air. We have seen several arrests over the course of the last several hours and we have also witnessed -- you mentioned those seven police officers who have been injured. Well, we saw at least three of them ourselves, one of them badly bloodied, another one who appeared to be unresponsive on the ground.
There's no way for us to know if that is -- what's been reported, unresponsive to this moment. But it's been a very hectic and unstable scene. Many -- at some point, when people were arrested, we had other bystanders saying that they had done nothing wrong.
We saw young people confronting the police, yelling at the police, asking to know what was going on. We have seen police chasing young people, so it's been a very unstable scene. Now we're arriving at this new location and we will able to tell you more as we get out and see what is going on around here, Wolf.
BLITZER: I just want to very quickly -- Athena, this was advertised hours earlier that this was going to happen, yet police deliberately apparently wanted to de-escalate and take that defensive posture. Is that right?
JONES: I'm not sure what is the reason for the police tactics here. I do know that they -- there was a lot of talk on Saturday about how much restraint the police showed so as not to exacerbate the situation.
I'm not sure what is causing them to mostly hold the line in these situations. We were outside that high school for at least I would say more than an hour-and-a-half. This was before we began to witness any arrests. And so there does seem to be an attitude of trying to limit the confrontation, but, of course, when you had these people throwing rocks, throwing stones, throwing parts of bricks, large pieces of concrete -- I saw a black part of a metal pipe being thrown -- that, of course, is a confrontation that required a response by police.
But you are correct in saying, Wolf, that we were alerted first several hours ago by a posting on the University of Maryland in Baltimore's Web site saying that they were shutting down early, ending classes early, stopping the shuttle service they provide to students, because they had heard from police about this planned event happening around 3:00. I spoke with a woman who was in the neighborhood who had been
working downtown at a company called CitiFinancial. They were let go at 2:30 p.m. because they had learned from Baltimore police that something could be in the works. So there certainly was a level of awareness.
I spoke with a bystander several hours ago who was warned over Facebook to stay away from the area where we were earlier near the high school because of expected unrest. So it is something that has certainly been percolating for awhile now.
And one thing that is odd I should tell you, Wolf, is that there are some moments of calm, where it seems as though things are calming down, and then just a few minutes later, you will see three or four people being arrested.
We are being circled by helicopters as I speak to you, some of them flying very, very low. But even way back as, say, 3:15 or 3:30, you had a helicopter flying lower than I have ever seen, maybe a few stories above the ground, telling the crowd to disperse. But those warnings were not heeded. And so that's where we are now, Wolf.
BLITZER: Athena, stand by. You see another store being looted right now. These young people, they're just going in, they're stealing stuff and they're coming out and running away. It looks like a grocery store or whatever.
Pamela Brown, you're getting new information.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We are
There's been a lot of questions about where is the leadership, where is the coordination? We just learned the Emergency Operations Center in Baltimore has been activated by the mayor in Baltimore to coordinate the response of the city and we have learned from affiliates there that 1,000 additional officers are being brought in to Baltimore, officers from surrounding counties, including Montgomery police, Montgomery County police, to help calm the situation.
And in addition to that, we know 40 more Maryland State Troopers were brought in addition to the 280 State Troopers. But there is still the question why now, Wolf? This is no surprise, as you point out. There was a warning that this was going to happen hours ago. Now we're learning the Emergency Operations Center has been activated by the mayor.
Also, there has been a statement released by the Baltimore City Schools on the current unrest. The statement says: "At this time of tension and anxiety regarding the tragic events surrounding Mr. Freddie Gray, we have a heightened responsibility to our students, families and school communities. First, the safety of our staff and students is our top concern."
It goes on to talk about how crisis counselors and mental health professionals are on hand to help students. WE know Baltimore police tweeted not too long ago that -- within the past hour asking for parents to locate their children and bring them home to safety, saying many of...
BLITZER: All right, look at this. You see a police, an armored vehicle over there is being attacked by some of the rioters. You see them throwing rocks and bricks at that armored vehicle going by.
And it is just continuing. Those rocks and bricks are not going to have much of an impact on that armored vehicle. But they're going to need a lot more armored vehicles. And as we have been reporting hours ago, Baltimore police did put out a statement saying there were credible threats of attacks against police.
As a result, the university of Maryland, Baltimore campus, they shut down hours ago. Yet we see that still three, four hours later, it's still going on in this major, major American city.
Brian Todd is joining us on the phone right now.
Brian, tell us where you are and what you have learned.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're at the corner of Retreat Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore.
We just heard some explosions. They could be flash bangs from the police. We also saw a fire being ignited from the street about a block away from where we are. Not sure exactly how that fire got started, but it's still burning about a block-and-a-half from where we are. We are not being allowed to go towards that area, because there are two cordons of police barricades near where we are.
Of course, you have been reporting not far from us, a CVS and a check cashing place have been looted. You see some activity down the street. There's some smoke, but we're not allowed to get any closer than we are and we are going to try to make our way a little bit closer to that location.
But just a real sense of unease and danger on the streets of Baltimore tonight, at least in this section of Baltimore, where all this activity is going on -- we did report earlier at least seven officers were hurt. One of them was unconscious and the spokesman for the police called these people outrageous criminals when he spoke to us a short time ago. And we're trying to move around the area right now where some of this activity is going on and get a little closer, Wolf.
BLITZER: And we can see now this store, this corner store on live television, helicopter shot from up above, it's being looted and it's going on and on and on and this is just one store being looted. We have seen several so far. And once again we're waiting for the police to show up, but it's been hours now and still no presence, no police presence there. These people feel very emboldened to just go into this store and steal other people's property and then take it and leave.
It's been going on and on.
Miguel Marquez, tell our viewers where you are and what you're seeing.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, coincidentally enough, we're at Pennsylvania and Retreat Street with a very, very heavy police presence.
They have several lines of police officers here and then beyond them that light that you see beyond us is North Avenue. We were just down there at North and Fulton. I can say that every shop, every store along there that I could see was being looted as we went down there.
There was a car that had crashed and was disabled in the middle of the intersection of Fulton and North Avenue. I have been to wars and this looks like a war. It was as bad as it gets. There was absolute pandemonium on the streets, the police in defensive mode.
What is concerning here, Wolf, is that you can see is that a lot of these police officers don't have shields. They don't have the bigger shields. They have been bringing in much larger shields for many of the police officers. And they also don't have proper protective gear on them. They're looking down this way.
This is what they're concerned about. And I can tell thaw when we were just around the corner the other way, there was a very, very large crowd of individuals who I did not want to get in the middle of. It's a very frightening situation. There is nothing worse than a mob. And what we saw on Saturday was certainly sporadic violence. What we see today is an absolute riot in Baltimore -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, these stores are being looted and these are live pictures. We're seeing the looting going on.
People are just going into the stores, privately owned businesses. Presumably, people, small business owners, their stores are being destroyed right now by what's going on and I don't see any significant -- any police presence whatsoever. I just see a bunch of looters going on.
Joining us now on the phone is Justin Fenton. He's a "Baltimore Sun" crime reporter.
Justin, you had some terrifying experiences. Tell us what happened.
JUSTIN FENTON, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": I was able to get into the middle of where all the rioting -- or -- excuse me -- the looting was taking place.
It was right across from the check cashing store that has been referenced earlier, across from the CVS. I was in there and a group of people instinctively pulled me aside. They had blue bandanas on their face. They self-identified themselves as Crips members. And they said they were going to keep me safe.
I did wander away from them to take pictures of the CVS looting, at which point a man with a hoodie pulled tightly over his face ran right up to me with mace and sprayed me and said kick it out, trying to get my cell phone. I retreated back to that area where the looting continued.
There's one business that is not being looted. It's one that has an off-duty officer with a shotgun standing in the vestibule. That's the mood out here. I can also tell you that these police cars were speeding through North Avenue for reasons I can't understand.
North Avenue, the main thoroughfare here, where this is all taking place, was not shut down. So regular folks were driving through. They were getting stopped and police tried to come through and people just picked up anything they could find and were just pelting and pelting, pelting these cars as they came through.
One unmarked car almost lost control. It fishtailed. It was spinning around and he was somehow able to pull through and go wherever he was going, so it's tense times out here right now.
BLITZER: Have you ever seen anything like this in Baltimore? These are live pictures, by the way, Justin. We're showing our viewers a variety store, including a store that sells cell phones, is being trashed right now, is being looted. People are just waiting in line to go in there and steal stuff, as much as they can.
It's hard to believe this is going on in your city.
FENTON: Yes, it is.
And people I was talking to were saying it's really -- it's just a situation of opportunity. People see other people doing it and they think, well, I can jump in there. And at one point, there was a check cashing store that was broken into and it had been sufficiently ransacked and it seemed like no one was there.
And I guess word must have gotten out through the city, because a huge throng of people at one point just came rushing it and all jumped inside. Very intense.
BLITZER: And these are live pictures that we're showing our viewers. Police vehicles going through and they're being hit by rocks and stones from people on the sidewalks. There it is. You just saw that.
FENTON: People are very emboldened right now. They're not afraid of the police.
BLITZER: Yes. I take it, Justin, that what we're showing our viewers now, this is video that you shot a little while ago, police vehicles just driving through and they're being pelted?
FENTON: Yes. Yes.
I mean, in my view, there's other -- there's regular civilians who were driving through that intersection at that point and those officers came through. And, yes, people just picked up anything.
People are not afraid of the police right now. They feel very emboldened in charge and they feel very much in charge. And they are showing it.
BLITZER: I want you to stand by. Once again, you see what's going on at this store over here.
I guess it was effectively looted, but now some people are standing there and they're trying to prevent more looters, maybe they're trying to prevent more looters from going in. We are going to watch all of these live feeds come in.
Joining us is Billy Murphy right now. He's an attorney for Freddie Gray's family, Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old individual who died in police custody, a severed neck, spinal cord and his funeral was only today.
Billy, tell us, tell us what's going on in Baltimore.
BILLY MURPHY, ATTORNEY FOR GRAY FAMILY: Well, depends on what part of the city you're in.
Right now, the violence is confined to I would say an average age group of 16, 17 years of age, kids who are disconnected from the overall group of people in Baltimore who are productive in society. These kids have had bad experiences in school.
They are frequently harassed by the police. They are unemployed because there's no summer jobs. And so this is what you would expect in a tense time like this. That's not a justification, though, because what they're doing is wrong. And we need to stop them. And those of us who are more mature in Baltimore, black and white together, we need to have a demonstration that shows them the right way to do it, rather than permitting them to go without leadership, the way that they're going now.
BLITZER: We're showing, Freddie (sic), live pictures. This is a liquor store that is being looted right now by a lot of people. It doesn't just look like 16- and 17-year-olds. It looks like a whole lot of people who see an opportunity to get inside that store and start stealing liquor and it's an ugly scene.
We saw a check cashing store being looted. We saw a CVS pharmacy being looted. We saw a grocery store being looted. And it's going on for several city blocks and this is not what the Freddie Gray family wanted, is it?
MURPHY: No, absolutely not.
And what they also don't want it to do is for it to spread. And the news media has to be extraordinarily careful that by constantly showing these small pockets of violence, that they're not unintentionally encouraging other kids to join in.
These kids are bored. They have nothing to do. They have few recreational facilities. The education system has failed them. Many of them come from homes that are more than broken. And so we don't want to give them a negative example by constantly parading this violence on national television in a way that will encourage them to join into it.
BLITZER: But you would think, Billy, if we're showing these pictures, these individuals, these young people, whether they're Crips or Bloods or the Black Guerrilla Family, or they're other individuals, they know eventually the police are going to get there and start making huge numbers of arrests.
MURPHY: Well, on the other hand, these are the most immature young adults in our society. And they traditionally have not made correct calculations when left alone about what the best thing in life is to do.
And so now they have an opportunity. And we don't want to make them even more tempted to do things by spreading the picture that we're spreading. And don't overestimate the Crips and the Bloods. Those are not the kids who are out on the streets. These are just regular kids with little or nothing to do at night, who find a level of excitement that's not appropriate.
And we need to as adults step in and show them the way by making a presence in this city, on these streets by having the kinds of demonstrations that will make them see the alternative to what they're doing.
BLITZER: The live picture we're showing, Billy, on the right- hand, upper-right-hand part of our screen, these are police who have gathered outside of Camden Yards. That's the home of the Baltimore Orioles, the Major League Baseball team.
They're supposed to be a game in about an hour, in less than an hour from now, 7:05. As of right now, that game is still going forward as scheduled. Let's see what happens over the next 45 minutes or so, but these police, they have just gathered there with clubs. They have got their helmets. They're ready to deal with these rioters, these demonstrators, protesters, whatever you want to call them, if they get anywhere near Camden Yards.
Camden Yards is really not all that far away from these violent demonstrations that have taken place.
Billy, before I let you go, how is the family of -- how is the family dealing with all of this right now, when they see these pictures, the Freddie Gray family? How are they dealing with this?
MURPHY: Earlier today, they were very encouraged by the warmth of the support and the extent of the support they were getting from the larger community.
Today, this evening, they're discouraged by what they see. They're upset about it. It is not what the family wants. It is not what the family needs. It isn't this family. And so they're begging everyone to show restraint, stop the looting, get back home. Don't get involved in this negative behavior.
And, by the way, Wolf, for what it's worth as you all train in -- and I understand why you do it -- on the hot spots, I was touring the rest of West Baltimore around that area, and the streets are extraordinarily quiet. And I hope that, again, that we're not inadvertently encouraging these kids to come out and join their friends in what seems to be 16- and 17- and 15- and 14-year-old kids acting out inappropriately.
BLITZER: All right, Billy Murphy, thank you so much.
Billy Murphy is an attorney representing the family of Freddie Gray.
This is Camden Yards. You're looking at these pictures. I don't know what this means. They have just shut the gates over there at Camden Yards. I don't know if this means that they are going to call off the game tonight or not. It looks like they're locking it over there at least for now. They're shutting it down. We are going to get word on whether this Major League Baseball game will take place in 45 minutes, as scheduled, or not
But you saw them shut that gate right there.
Let's stay on top of that story as well.
Pamela Brown, you're getting more information.
BROWN: That's right, Wolf.
The governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, released a statement saying that the Maryland National Guard has now been put on standby in the wakes of the violence there in Baltimore.
In this statement that he released, he says: "Today's looting and acts of violence will not be tolerated and in response I have put the Maryland National Guard on alert so they can be in position to deploy rapidly as needed. There is a significant difference between protesting and violence and those committing these acts will be prosecuted under the fullest extent of the law."
The governor goes on to say the Maryland State Police have also been dispatched in a support role and other resources and equipment from various state agencies are being deployed there. We know the Emergency Operations Center has been activated, Wolf, and so that center will coordinate the response from law enforcement.
But I can tell you there is great concern in law enforcement across the board the fact that nightfall is right around the corner and the fact that we have the rioters on the streets and the threat from the gangs. The Baltimore police released today that three major gangs, the Crips, Bloods and Black Guerrilla, family are uniting to target law enforcement officials. It's a very chaotic situation.
BLITZER: And, as you say, as you have reported, the FBI is now investigating what they describe as gang threats to police in Baltimore. That's another significant development.
The federal government now involved, the National Guard being put on standby to come into this major American city.
Joe Johns, I take it you're over at Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles are supposed to be playing a baseball game in about 45 minutes or so?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Just about 45 minutes from now, they're supposed to play the Chicago White Sox.
We do see some police officers out front here. They were accompanied by even more just a little while ago, but the officers were moved to a different location to help the police apparently reinforce the people they have on the streets.
We have seen people walking in. It doesn't look like the stadium is filling up very quickly. They're trying to make it look like, you know, a normal day. Down the street, not far from here -- we're at the intersection of Camden and Eutaw streets -- we have seen armored police vehicles, a lot of sirens.
BLITZER: I just want to interrupt, Joe. Hold on for a moment.
We have just learned, based on the Baltimore Orioles' Twitter account, they have decided now to postpone the game. I don't know if that means postpone it for a few hours or for another day. But the game at least is not going to begin at 7:05 p.m. Eastern, that just coming in, Joe.
JOHNS: OK. Then that makes a lot of sense. And it's just as well because, quite frankly, we have seen very few people walking in here. And we see a lot of people milling around on the other side of the gate, but out of an abundance of caution, obviously, the team owners and such have decided to go ahead and think about postponing or do whatever they're going to do, because it's a fluid situation here.
As I said, we haven't seen any rioters or demonstrators or what have you. We do see the armored police vehicle that just pulled up in front of us while I have been talking, so police are on alert for this area. We don't see a huge crowd. That is certainly good news for Baltimore and we're just watching this see what happens, Wolf. BLITZER: It's a serious situation. And the Twitter -- the
Orioles' Twitter account simply said this: "After consultation with Baltimore City Police Department, tonight's game between the Orioles and White Sox at Oriole Park has been postponed" -- that just in.
You're seeing these live pictures. Police officers, they are standing with their clubs and their helmets outside of Camden Yards, Baltimore Oriole Park. And they're getting ready for something. Hopefully, it will be quiet over there, but at least we now know the Orioles/White Sox game has been postponed.
Miguel Marquez, you're getting more information. You're right in the middle of the action over there. What are you learning?
MARQUEZ: Yes, we're at North Avenue and Pennsylvania. These were the cars that were burning just a short time ago. It is hard to tell what either of them are, although I'm looking at these and clearly these are ticket books, so one of these at least was a police vehicle of some sort.
The CVS that -- oh, this actually -- now that I realize it, this was the police car actually. You can see what was used to be lights on top of that police car at one point, completely destroyed, and the van behind it, and you can see that it's just been completely vandalized and destroyed.
This, if you turn around here, is the -- is the CVS. Back -- just that orange building back here is the CVS that's been badly looted here. And I want to turn around over here to Pennsylvania and North avenues. This is -- just a few blocks from here is where Mr. Gray was arrested two weeks ago.
This is the area that we spent the last week. This is the area that has been very welcoming to us all week and continues to be at the moment. I can tell you there is a large contingent of police just up Pennsylvania Avenue. And I understand that most of the protesters or most of the people who are doing the damage in the city right now are moving toward downtown, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. We see that line of police in the lower right- hand part of our screen. These are all live pictures coming in right now. Stand by, Miguel.
I want to bring in Congressman Elijah Cummings. He's a Democrat from Maryland. But he grew up in this neighborhood in Baltimore.
Congressman, you and I have had some serious discussions on what's going on. Did you ever in your worst moments think it would come down to this in your community?
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: No, I did not, Wolf, but I think people are just very, very upset. They are upset about certainly Mr. Gray's death.
And I think, you know, when they were told that he was arrested without incident of force...
BLITZER: Hold on.
Congressman, Congressman, I want -- I want to interrupt for a moment because we're just getting this live picture. Look at this. I don't know if you can see it, Congressman, but this is the CVS pharmacy that's looted. It's destroyed. And it looks like it's now on fire. The whole area is under smoke right now. And I don't see any firefighters. I don't see any police.
I just see individuals taking pictures. There, you see some police coming. But it looks like that CVS that was just looted is now on fire.
Miguel, you're there, right?
MARQUEZ: We are right here next to it. We can see the police coming down the way toward us here, Wolf.
This is the CVS that's been looted all day and you can see the police trying to restore order to this area of Pennsylvania and North Avenue. The opposite direction is downtown from, where these police are. Most of the protesters have moved in that direction toward downtown.
We are with security right now. You can see the number of journalists who are also getting pictures of these police, but look at this CVS. We saw people just moments ago walking out of that CVS with goods from it and then somebody clearly set fire to it within the last few minutes. And this neighborhood that we have spent the last week in that's been so welcoming to us all week has turned into an absolute war zone.
We are telling security, I think, now that he would like us to -- to back up out of here. I think that -- well, and I think more concerning is that that when the police start to...
BLITZER: All right, hold on a moment. I think I just lost our connection with you, Miguel.
But these are live pictures coming in from a helicopter hovering overhead. This CVS pharmacy is now -- it's now being destroyed. You see the smoke coming out.
Elijah Cummings, I don't know if you can see this where you are. You are the congressman. You represent this district. We see a whole phalanx of police officers now outside and I see no firefighters, but this pharmacy is being burnt to the ground.
CUMMINGS: Yes. It's very unfortunate.
No, I did not think it would come to this. We had the funeral today. The family of Mr. Gray had requested that there be no protests whatsoever today, and things seemed to be going well. The funeral was a celebration of his life. And then, right after the funeral, things kind of broke -- broke up.
And so we had -- I had gotten a rumor that there might be something happening as I was leaving the funeral, but not -- we never expected anything like this.
BLITZER: And what they're really afraid of, Congressman, as you well know -- and we see the smoke coming out of this CVS -- it's already been looted, for all practical purposes, but we see what's going on inside.
You know, it's hard to believe that it could get a whole lot worse as it gets dark in your community.
BLITZER: At nightfall, there's a lot of concern we have heard from law enforcement that this is going to get even worse.
I have been urging people to make sure that, if they have relatives that this downtown, to make sure that they urge them to get into -- come home and use Twitter and whatever they have to use to do that.
But, clearly, we're going to -- you know, as it gets dark, things get much more difficult.
BLITZER: It's hard to...
CUMMINGS: And the police have shown some...
BLITZER: Yes, the police have...
CUMMINGS: ... substantial restraint.
BLITZER: They have shown a lot of restraint, and -- and some people are saying, Congressman, way too much restraint. They're in a defensive posture. This has been going on now for about three hours. And people who are watching this live coverage here in the United States and indeed around the world are wondering what happened to the Baltimore Police Department?
CUMMINGS: Well, again, I think that the way the -- this incident came down with the police department saying that initially he was arresting -- Mr. Gray was arrested without force or without incident and then the public finding out that he had a broken neck, a crushed larynx and then a severed spinal cord, and then he died a week later, I mean, that really kind of upset people.
And so there are a lot of answers that still have to come forward. But I think the police commissioner has tried to put out as much information as he possibly can without jeopardizing a case in the event that the police officers are indicted.
BLITZER: We're getting these live picture, Congressman. This is the CVS Pharmacy that was looted and now being burnt right now. We just got a statement from CVS: "We're cooperating with police monitoring other stores to ensure the safety of employees and customers and also with the people of Baltimore." Another tweet they put out, "Due to nearby protest activity we've closed some stores in Baltimore. No customers or employees have been harmed, at least as of right now." That just came out from CVS.
Is this the work, Elijah Cummings -- you know the community. You've lived there your whole life. Is it the work of a bunch of gangs whether the so-called Crips or Bloods or Black Guerrilla Family, or is this just more widespread?
CUMMINGS: I'm not sure, Wolf. I think there are different elements here. I think you have some people who are generally very upset about what happened to Mr. Gray. And they were protesting.
Then I think you've got another group that may just want to take advantage of what can -- has become a kind of chaotic situation that the police are trying to keep under control. So you don't know what the intentions of people are.
But certainly, when you see people going in and looting, as I've said to them, when you do those kind of things, you only distract from finding solutions to the problems. And so I'm asking people not to get involved in that kind of activity.
BLITZER: And we're now hearing...
CUMMINGS: We'll continue to do that all night.
BLITZER: Of course you are. We're hearing, Congressman, that as fire engines are trying to get closer to these scenes, they are being pelted with rocks and bricks as they drive by. Who would have believed this could be happening in Baltimore?
CUMMINGS: Yes, yes. Well, again, we're going to get control over this situation. We've got about 150 ministers meeting in a few minutes. I'm going to join them. And trying to get more and more people who want to make sure that we keep a peaceful situation together to see what we can do and, of course, working with the mayor and our police commissioner.
BLITZER: I agree with -- I assume you agree with me, Congressman, that if police had been in these areas outside the CVS, A, it wouldn't have been looted, and B, it wouldn't be burning right now.
CUMMINGS: Well, the problem is we've got different problems going on in different places all over the city. And so they're kind of spread out quite a bit here.
And so it's hard to -- I'm sure they're doing the very best they can with the personnel that they have. They've called in personnel from state troopers. Certainly, we have some National Guard folks here. So, you know, they -- I believe that they are slowly but surely
getting control of the situation. But, again, this is something that we did not expect to get to this point at this time.
BLITZER: Yes, we just are getting in a statement, Congressman, from the White House, saying the president did meet with the new attorney general, Loretta Lynch. She was sworn in today. They discussed several issues, including what's going on in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray. The Department of Justice, as you know, is investigating Freddie Gray's death.
She assured the president, according to this White House statement, she would continue to monitor events in Baltimore, that the Department of Justice stands ready to provide any assistance that may be helpful there.
Do you believe the National Guard needs to come in now?
CUMMINGS: I leave that up to the police department, Wolf. I don't -- I can't judge that.
But I will say that I got a call within the last half an hour from Valerie Jarrett, letting us know, letting me know that whatever they -- whatever we needed in Baltimore, the White House was ready to help out and offering to send key people from the Department of Justice to reaffirm the fact that the Baltimore City Police Department is going to be looked at very carefully by the Justice Department.
[18:35:26] BLITZER: Congressman, if you could stand by, I want to go to our own Brian Todd. He's right near that CVS that's now on fire. We see the smoke coming out.
Brian, how close are you?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're just a few feet from the back of the CVS. You can see behind me smoke just billowing out of that entrance to the CVS. We're told by police that everybody did get out OK. But clearly they still have an active situation here.
Some fire trucks just pulled up to the front of the building. Some other officers are moving toward it in their riot gear. This is a phalanx of officers here, kind of guarding the back entrance, not letting us get any closer. There are choppers circling overhead.
We're also told by police that a short time, that there were people throwing bricks at police cars, with police officers still in them. So this situation here around the area of Pennsylvania Avenue and North Avenue still very, very dangerous. Very fluid, as you see smoke just billowing out of the back of the CVS Pharmacy right there, Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, I want you to be safe over there, so maybe get out of the way over there if that smoke gets too close. And who knows if there could be explosions as a result of what's going on, as well. This is an extremely dangerous situation under way in the city of Baltimore right now. Miguel Marquez, you're not too far away. Tell us where you are.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: My God, Wolf. I am at the corner of West North and Pennsylvania Avenue and it is -- it just gets worse, if that is possible.
You have a fire, a major fire in a very busy area of the city. You have people throwing things at the police as they try to clear the area. It is a very, very serious situation.
Police are finally trying to establish some sort of control in this area of North Avenue. You can see the firefighters have finally arrived on the scene here at the CVS. And they are trying to -- they're just now getting hoses on it. It has been burning for quite some time.
The cars, which are right down the way here, have been burning for over an hour. The CVS just started burning, and right behind us is Pennsylvania Avenue. And the majority of the people who are up here causing the mischief has now moved towards downtown. And they are going after Pennsylvania Avenue and moving toward downtown. That's the same route they took on Saturday as they were -- as they were protesting.
And you can see a lot of the protesters, a lot of the individuals out here, this is no longer a protest. This is just pandemonium and riot, I should say.
And you can see now the police -- check this out. The police trying to encircle the fire engines. Literally people throwing things at the police and at the firefighters as they're trying to put out this fire in this area.
The smoke is absolutely horrendous. It's actually cleared out a lot of the individuals in the area, because it is so bad. Police using pepper spray on some of these individuals along the way.
Here comes another -- swing around this -- swing around this way. You can see more firefighters showing up and a lot -- this is Pennsylvania Avenue. What did you say?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Use pepper spray and on top of that, they've destroyed a cop car right there. Completely destroyed it. And they've been drawing the line right here. And behind this building right here, behind this building, they've been setting up the police (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But all this area, the point of Pennsylvania and West North has been completely chaos.
MARQUEZ: You're a reporter here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm with A.J. Plus (ph). L.J. for A.J. Plus (ph).
MARQUEZ: You've seen all this happen. I've seen you out here all week.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All week.
MARQUEZ: Can you believe what's happening?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like Dr. Jamal Bryant says, a peaceful six days until the last day, which was Saturday night. We had a very, very nice funeral day for Freddie Gray, and this is not about what Freddie Gray is all about. This is something completely and totally utterly chaos. It's disgusting.
MARQUEZ: I can tell you that a lot of the individuals who were up here earlier said that they are going to move down Pennsylvania Avenue toward downtown toward the Arena, the Baltimore Arena and possibly toward Camden Yards, as well, where they went after on Saturday.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The young people out here, though, are angry. And they're angry about something, and something needs to change. That's real.
MARQUEZ: They're clearly angry, and they clearly are not going to stop.
BLITZER: All right, Miguel, hold on for a moment. I want you to be -- Miguel, I want you to be careful over there. Don't get too close to that smoke. It looks like that's a situation that could increasingly get more ugly. Miguel, be careful over there. We're going to get back to you.
Shortly, Brian Todd is not that far away from the CVS Pharmacy that's now in flames. This smoke is coming out, billowing. Firefighters trying to get to the area. You see a cordon of police that are trying to protect the firefighters right now.
Brian, where are you and what are you seeing?
TODD: Wolf, we're at the side of the CVS building. We just saw a firefighter go in through some kind of an opening in the roof. They're trying to let some smoke out. And a lot is billowing out, blowing toward where we are and enveloping the riot-clad police officers that are right around this building, as you mentioned, trying to protect the firefighters. Another fire truck just pulled in to this alleyway to try to give support to the firefighters who went in. But we definitely saw a moment ago one firefighter going right through the roof as the smoke was billowing out.
Our photojournalist, John Bennett (ph), he can pan to our left here. We see another fire truck arriving right now. The police making way for that vehicle to get in. Clearly, this situation here at the CVS, this fire is not out. A lot of dangerous smoke pouring out of this building, Wolf.
CVS has told us that none of their employees were injured in this situation. So that's (AUDIO GAP) -- still clearly...
BLITZER: I think...
TODD: A dangerous situation here as the firefighters try to get this contained.
BLITZER: I want you to be a safe distance from that location, Brian. So be careful over there.
Miguel, you're getting more information?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Move back. Move back. Move back. Move back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Move back. Move back. Move back. Move back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Move back. Move back. Move back. Move back.
MARQUEZ: Looks like the police are moving in. These protesters, they're moving backwards. The police are moving forward. They're trying to clear this area so firefighters can try to contain the smoke and the flames that's going on. But it's an ugly situation, as we can all see.
Miguel Marquez, are you there? Can you hear me? I don't think -- I think we've lost connection temporarily with Miguel. We've got Brian Todd.
Cedric Alexander is joining us now. He's the president of the National Association [SIC] of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
Cedric, these are so disturbing to see what's going on. Your thoughts. Tell us what -- you've seen this disaster unfold in a major American city. Hard to believe this could happen.
CEDRIC ALEXANDER, PRESIDENT, NOBLE: Well, I've been watching this about the last hour along with you and many other Americans across the country. And it's so sad. It's unfortunate. And I think what you have out here, quite frankly, are a number of young people who really are not respecting the wishes of the family whatsoever.
I certainly agree with the congressman, Elijah Cummings, earlier that this is not acceptable. It should not be happening. And there should be respect, and there should be respect given to that family at this point. But...
TODD: Are you hearing of anybody...
ALEXANDER: But what's going to continue to be important for us to watch here is how to the police is going -- the local police there is going to respond to this crowd, because it's a very sensitive situation, and I'm quite sure they're moving into this location, moving towards this crowd very carefully. Because they don't want to create a problem if they don't have to.
But I am more certain than confident that, when they need to take some real action, they are going to do so. So this is a very sad, unfortunate scene on the American streets here again in this country. But we're going to move through this, but this is going to be a process that is certainly -- we're all going to watch throughout the evening, and hopefully, no one else gets...
BLITZER: All right. Cedric, hold on for a moment, because Miguel Marquez is right there on the scene for us.
Miguel, tell our viewers what's going on. It looks like police are trying to form a line. Are you OK, Miguel?
MARQUEZ: I am fine. It's a little smoky, and it's a bit disgusting. We're having a tough time breathing. Poor Adrian there. But the police, as you can see, have pushed protesters now back to the far corner of Pennsylvania and North Avenue.
That is -- that's not smoke. That is either pepper spray or some sort of tearing agent that I'm getting in my face right now. There are several individuals who are being overcome by it at the moment. Some of the folks that I've seen in the neighborhood the last week or so are out here, as well. I just saw one of them sort of go down.
A lot of the protesters and a lot of -- well, I call them protesters. I've been saying that for the last week. But it's no longer protesters. It's just random violence. They are moving down Pennsylvania Avenue farther toward downtown, and it is not clear what if -- if there is any plan at all.
I know that the pastors are meeting right now, but they are getting out on the street. We just saw a contingent of Nation of Islam that are well-respected in this neighborhood, and they are trying to get their people out on the street to stop what is happening here, to get -- literally, collaring young people, pulling them aside and getting them out of here.
A bottle was just thrown at police by an individual. But you can see, this is exactly -- this is -- look at this. Look at this, Wolf. See, this is what happens. This is what happens. They throw a bottle and individuals like this come out and trying to stop it.
There are factions within this neighborhood. Those that are angry enough at police that they will throw that bottle and others who are trying to stop them and this is -- this is Shawn who -- come here, Shawn. I want to talk to you. We did this earlier.
This is the young man last Tuesday who tried to grab the mike out of my hand and on Saturday night I saw you between the police lines and the protesters and you were trying to stop the protesters this. This is your neighborhood. What is this become?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This -- I told you guys from the jump this would happen. This happened as a result of the way the situation was carried. This did not happen as a result of that young man's death. This happened as a result of the way the situation was handled.
MARQUEZ: But you said today -- I mean, this is -- is this what you expected? Do you think this should be happening?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do not think there should be happening. Did I expect this? I knew my city was capable of -- this is nothing, OK? This is a small percentage of what these people are capable -- they're standing here. Everyone is still here. No one has moved out. This is not organized. This is just -- just spontaneous basically.
MARQUEZ: A week ago you were trying to grab the mike from me yelling "F" this, "F" that on the TV. I know you apologized and took a selfie later on but now your neighborhood, your town, your neighborhood is on fire and burning. You realize today over the weekend that this was not the way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I knew it wasn't. But, see, the politician, the people involved allowed this to happen. They knew this -- like, no, no, no, they allowed this to happen.
MARQUEZ: This is -- this is the frustration in the neighborhood. It is -- yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A prime example. Before they hit CVS, the SWAT team stood up there and watch them go into CVS. They allowed it to happen. They could have moved down here and stop it. But they allowed it to happened.
MARQUEZ: This is precisely what -- and you were down I'd say -- this is precisely what you were saying earlier, Wolf. They weren't in an aggressive policing mode. They were trying -- they were trying to stand back and allow everything to be -- you know, to control the crowds without actually taking on the crowds. You can see police now pulling their lines across to this other side.
Let's get out of here. Come on, guys, this way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That way. That way. That way.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Miguel, I want you to be careful over there.
MARQUEZ: Police are now blocking us in. We'll go around the block, I think --
MARQUEZ: -- to vehicles here.
BLITZER: Miguel, I want you to be careful over there, Miguel. Obviously it's a dangerous situation.
MARQUEZ: What they're doing is controlling this entire area. And you can see them having -- look at this.
POLICE: Back off!
MARQUEZ: Watch yourself.
You can see them having a tough time trying to keep control of their own lines. These police officers have not been in this situation before. They are nervous and they -- excuse me. And they are not well coordinated from what I can tell. On Saturday, it was particularly bad where small, small groups of
police officers getting caught in with the protesters, completely unaware and now police officers are trying to move down the street because firefighters right here, you can see them, they are furiously trying to get that hose hooked up so that they can get the water in good enough amounts on -- on that -- on that fire at CVS.
It is very interesting to be here because I feel I've been here for a week and I know about everybody in this neighborhood. Watch these firefighters work.
BLITZER: By the time they get that firefighter -- that -- those hoses working, that CVS is going to toast.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch out.
MARQUEZ: They are desperate to get that water flowing. As far as I can tell they have not been able to get much water, if any, on that -- they've not been able to get -- watch yourselves. Watch yourselves. That's a lot of water. That's a lot of pressure.
There we go. Now they got the line going. Holy hell, Wolf. I got to tell you -- I've covered a lot of things, nothing as dramatic and as chaotic as this.
This is -- you, again, how are you, my friend? Are you surviving?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm surviving, yes, I am. We are survivors in Baltimore.
MARQUEZ: I take it you are not happy with what is happening in your neighborhood.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not just the neighborhood. I'm not happy as a whole because the people in my city are not happy.
MARQUEZ: How far is this going to go?
[18:50:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as they take us.
MARQUEZ: What does that mean? Watch yourself. Watch yourself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's behind me now, see, see?
MARQUEZ: Did you see that? Did you see that?
Wolf, if you just saw that, they just, while we were talking there, they just cut the hose with a knife, trying to -- and then ran, trying to thwart the efforts of the authorities to actually turn out this fire.
People in this neighborhood blaming police for what has happened here. Residents are trying to bring control to this situation.
Can I speak to you for a second? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
MARQUEZ: You seemed upset by this. Individuals who are here from this neighborhood are very upset by what they're seeing right now, but there are others who are thwarting the authorities at every turn, even just another one.
BLITZER: I just saw that guy cut the hose as well.
MARQUEZ: The person in the gas mask who --
BLITZER: With a gas mask.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's how it go. That's how it go.
MARQUEZ: So, you would rather have your neighborhood burn?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not the situation -- the situation is what you're seeing here. My neighborhood not burnt right now. What you're getting an example of what is really inside of everybody for about 20 years. I'm 41. I witnessed atrocities that build up and build up.
And me, I talk to city hall. I told them repeatedly around the Tyrone West situation, the bottom was gone too far out. PFK boom, you see about my city. They dirty, man. They know what's going on.
MARQUEZ: This is long-standing anger.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Long-standing, baby.
MARQUEZ: Thank you very much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.
BLITZER: I want you to be really careful over there, because it looks, Miguel, like the police are moving closer and closer. They're moving in. This could get even more ugly.
MARQUEZ: Trying to get control of that -- of those hoses so that they can continue to get water on that fire. But it is -- this is a city that is out of control -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It certainly is right now. And it looks like it's going to potentially get even worse.
MARQUEZ: You think you're taking control?
UNIDENTIIFED MALE: We're taking control? No, it's not even the fact that we're taking control. We're taking back what is ours.
You're trying to take away what is ours right now. We want answers. You come into our -- neighborhoods. People striving for greatness, you know? I'm striving for success right now, you know, and now I'm being judged based on a lot going on in here. MARQUEZ: There is anger to go around in this neighborhood on
both sides of the issue. You have people who are trying to protect their neighborhood right now and people who are trying to tear it apart, to send a very strong signal that they are unhappy. And clearly they have done, that Wolf.
BLITZER: But in that neighborhood, do they want that CVS to burn down? Is that what they want?
MARQUEZ: This is -- this is the problem. Everybody says, look, they have no grocery store in this neighborhood. They have no place to buy stuff. That was a newer store. That was one of the newest stores I had seen in this neighborhood, everything else sort of small mom and pop stores along the way where they have to buy the few things that they can to eat.
There is very few fresh fruits, fresh vegetables. I saw fresh fruit carts in this neighborhood that are horse-drawn. This is not a typical neighborhood.
It is shocking to me that we live in New York and in Washington and in nice areas of Baltimore and in this pocket it's just -- it's another world. It's literally like another country in this neighborhood.
And the people here with their hands up, keeping their hands up, because -- why are you here? Why you keeping your hands up?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because what people think is reactionary. What is going on is a reactionary situation. This is a non-thought thing. We need to be organized when we do things. This is got to the point, this is not about Gray right now. This reaction is reactionary --
MARQUEZ: What do you mean by that? Your neighborhood is burning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My neighborhood burned in 1968 too. And they had to reorganize it again. People are doing things because they really don't know.
People are doing out of their gut. They're not thinking. It's a gut reaction. You've got people in here that don't even belong in here, that's doing things, like who stabbed that --
MARQUEZ: You think those people aren't from your neighborhood?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody is not from the neighborhood. Everybody is not from the neighborhood you see doing things. They are not from this neighborhood.
Some of the people not even from Baltimore. These people -- these was children early today who just came home from school. They had their school uniforms on. They just came home from school. And that's what they're all about.
The parents should have come out. I saw the parents coming out, pulling their kids.
MARQUEZ: Is this going to be '68 again? Is it going get that bad? Where is it going?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These people are not local, not 1968. These are not local people. These are not (INAUDIBLE) people. These are reactionary people. There will never be another '68.
Where are the leaders?
[18:55:00] Where is Jamal Brown? Where is Jamal Brown? Where is the mayor? Where are the people down here? Where are them?
We're dealing with people. If you are talking about leadership, where are the leaders? You're dealing with a bunch of people right here --
MARQUEZ: What do you tell Americans who are watching Baltimore tonight, what is this city?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That this could have been their city. The death of killing black men in this country is going to go to this. It's going to be their city and it's going to be their city because it's a reactionary situation. People are doing things. They're feeling right now. You can only put so much into a pressure cooker before it pop.
And what has happened now, people are reacting about the conditions they're under. This could have been New York. It's been Ferguson. It's going to travel.
We need to stop the police brutality. That's number one. We need to stop the police brutality. Once we stop that, this will stop. We need to have ten days, ten days of investigation. Ten days of investigation, is that real? The man is buried and they still haven't dealt with, ten days of investigation.
MARQUEZ: I wish you the best. I know. And I hear you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wish you the best. Because it's not about me, it's about the United States. Where are the people in Baltimore City in their suits to be on TV, and talking about what they need to do where?
Is Jamal Brown? We're talking about Jamal. We need him out here today. He needs to get some of this tear gas in his face. He needs to get some of this fear. We need to have --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where's the mayor?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Babies out here earlier, standing up to do something. Their parents weren't here. The leadership aren't here. They left them out here by themselves. And this is the aftermath.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to educate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now people are upset. They left our babies to do this.
MARQUEZ: I wish you the best of luck.
UNIDENTIFIEDF EMALE: They locked down my son's school today. They locked down my son's school today. And I had to get my niece to get my son. They locked it down because of the fear that is going on.
Our babies is looking at this. We need to set clear examples for our children.
MARQUEZ: You know this neighborhood. Is this going to stop tonight?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't know. And I'm not going to predict it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When is it going to stop be just us and justice?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not destructive. This is reactionary. This is a reactionary thing.
MARQUEZ: Thank you very much. It's a lovely city. I love Baltimore.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where are you from?
MARQUEZ: From New York.
Wolf, a little bit of the sense of what is happening here. Here are the police. They have established control over that hose there, and they're finally getting water on that CVS. But as you can see, it is absolute chaos here in west Baltimore tonight -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, I never thought I would see firefighters arrive to deal with a fire in a CVS pharmacy in Baltimore. They hook up the hose, and individuals take knives and start cutting holes in that hose. They want that CVS to burn to the ground and stop that.
Clearly, the anger unfolding. You know, Jeffrey Toobin, we -- none of us anticipated anything like this.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No, it's really bad. And it is -- it does not seem to be over. And, you know, I just think we have to draw a distinction between protesters and criminals. There is a long and honorable history in our country of people protesting, and there does seem to be a lot to protest in Baltimore.
But burning down a CVS is not a protest. That's a crime. And we have to look forward to an evening and a night where I hope it's peaceful.
BLITZER: And I assume cities all over the country are going to be looking at what happened and what didn't happen as far as the police department.
The leadership of Baltimore is concerned, Tom Fuentes, and drawing some lessons.
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's true. But I would like to hear some community leadership concern about the people that just lost their jobs that work in that CVS and the other stores up and down that street that have been looted. They're unemployed now.
Miguel, I just want to go back to you. You really did a wonderful, amazing bit of journalism for us reporting on what is going on. I want to thank you and thank -- I saw Alec, our producer, our photographers. You guys are right in the middle of the action. I want you to stay careful. You're going to be with us throughout the night.
But just be careful of what is going on over there. And don't do anything overly dangerous, because it's an important story. We want to make sure you get back to New York safe and sound. I want to thank you on behalf of all of us, Miguel.
Give us a final thought.
MARQUEZ: The final thought is I don't know where this goes. I've been here for a week now covering this. It has been an exceptionally interesting week. I've always loved Baltimore. I didn't know what a tough and diverse a city it is. And to have neighborhoods like you see here, I am not sure where this is going tonight.
We didn't have much warning that this was going to happen. We thought Saturday was the worst. The neighborhood here that I spent the last six days in, seven days, seemed to be over it. And now it is -- we just don't know -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Miguel, thanks very, very much.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
CNN's live coverage of this disaster unfolding in the streets of Baltimore continues right now with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT".