Gang Members Protected Black Businesses During Baltimore Riots

As Baltimore protests over police conduct turned violent Monday, CVS closed a nearby store that was later looted and set on fire. Flames also engulfed an affordable housing center for seniors, owned by the Southern Baptist Church, which was months away from opening.

[Related: Social Media, Tech Play Role in Baltimore Riots and Recovery]

While rioters looted several local businesses, members of three Baltimore street gangs reportedly came together in unity during Monday’s unrest to protect black-owned businesses. Crips, Bloods and Black Guerilla Family gang members reportedly stood guard in front of some black-owned businesses to protect them from would-be looters and arsonists. Instead, they allegedly were directed to businesses owned by Arabs and Chinese, according to The New York Times.

Reports began circulating Sunday night that members of the three competing gangs had agreed to a cease-fire in a show of solidarity over the recent death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died after being arrested. He suffered a severe spinal injury of unknown origin.

Anger over his plight may have spurred Monday’s violence, but Baltimore City Council Member Brandon Scott told CNN it was also fueled by a long, long, longstanding issue with young African-Americans. “We’re talking about years and decades of mistrust, of misfortune, of despair that it’s just coming out in anger,” Scott said. “No, it is not right for them to burn down their own city. But that is what’s coming out of these young people.”

President Barack Obama stated on Tuesday that some police aren’t doing the right thingand that a lot of the tension between law enforcement and the black community stems from “a slow-rolling crisis” that has been brewing for decades. Fixing it will require more investment in cities, criminal justice reform, better funding for education and soul-searching for some police departments, he said.

Angst can excuse what Obama called the behavior of “criminals and thugs who tore up” Baltimore.  “When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they’re not protesting. They’re not making a statement. They’re stealing,” he said. “When they burn down a building, they’re committing arson. And they’re destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities. That robs jobs and opportunity from people in that area.”

Some big businesses based in Baltimore like T. Rowe Price Group have responded to the riots by reportedly asking employees to work from home. As the cleanup begins, it remains to be seen what will be the economic aftermath the Baltimore protest and riot.

Scientific studies have shown that the race riots of of the 1960s had economically significant negative effects on blacks’ income and employment for decades. The riots significantly depressed the median value of black-owned property, with little or no rebound.

However, Cincinnati is a city where big companies got behind small black businesses due to a period of racial unrest. After the 2001 race riots, major corporations headquartered in Cincinnati, including executives from P&G, Toyota, Kroger, and Macy’s, got together along with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber to create the Cincinnati Community Action Now Committee, out of which came the Minority Business Accelerator in 2003, which helped accelerate the growth and development of sizable minority-owned businesses and to increase employment in urban areas that city.