After a long night of looting, burning and assaults on police which left at least a dozen officers injured, Baltimore has emerged as a strong contender to face Ferguson in a head-to-head matchup next year to find the most riotous city in the USA.
The unrest, which followed the funeral of Freddie Gray, an African-American man who died a week ago in police custody, left several police cruisers in flames and a number of downtown businesses ransacked. Dozens of arrests were made as outnumbered police struggled to regain control of the city’s streets.
However, civil unrest commentators still expect Ferguson, Missouri — where months of street violence following the shooting death of an African-American felon culminated in a shooting attack that wounded two police officers — to be the city to beat in the 2016 playoffs of the biannual National Rioting Championships.
“Really, once you’ve started using live ammunition against law enforcement, that’s a game changer, and it’s hard for rioters who are just using brickbats and broken bottles to close that gap,” said ESPN’s Duncan D’Eaunutse.
However, other analysts see Baltimore as having a stronger and deeper bench than Ferguson, which only started rioting at a national level last year. The city has a history of competitive rioting going back to 1968, when unrest following the death of Martin Luther King Jr. was only ended by the deployment of thousands of National Guard troops. Baltimore finished a narrow second to Chicago in that year’s national rioting finals.
“You can’t buy the sort of experience. You can’t teach it. It has to be born out of decades of festering racial grievance,” said Chris P. Kareem of Fox Sports.
Baltimore holds the U.S. team record for the longest consecutive distance of property burned to the ground — a distance of three and a half downtown blocks incinerated in the 1968 unrest.
But a Ferguson rioter, Rashid Jabar, currently holds the U.S. record for the longest in the men’s individual half house brick hurling event, a feat achieved in August of last year which resulted in the shattering of a police squad car window.
A potential threat to Baltimore’s chances is that the contenders are ranked on overall levels of violence, and this includes the severity of the response by the authorities. While the governor of Maryland has mobilized the National Guard to support law enforcement in the city, the relatively restrained response by the police up to now could hurt Baltimore’s overall ranking.
Next year’s national finals will take place in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention which is being held in July in Philadelphia. The winning city will go on to represent the USA in the World Rioting Championships in Seoul, South Korea the following year. The current reigning champions are India, where rampaging mobs regularly hack to death or burn hundreds of people in brutal sectarian pogroms.