Baltimore Looters Take Everything But a Family’s Pennies

Chinese store-owners and a soldier who fought in Afghanistan both return to find their hometown transformed into a war zone.

04.28.15 12:05 PM ET

BALTIMORE — A 12-year-old boy swept up glass in front of his family’s cornerstore early Tuesday morning. Among the detritus that littered the sidewalk were a few Butterfingers, pieces of gum, and a single roll of pennies. That seems to be the value of what’s left in this store run by a family of Chinese immigrants after the looting.

“They just stole everything,” the boy said.

The family had been in New York, celebrating the wedding of a family member. They returned to a Baltimore that in places is unrecognizable thanks to the chaos following Freddie Gray’s funeral. They weren’t the only ones.

The city partly resembled the war zone Charlie Brauning was returning home from. The soldier was one of two in Army fatigues on a flight from Chicago to Charm City, heading back to Baltimore from a five-month deployment to Afghanistan. Before shutting off the lights and taking to the air, the pilot paused for a brief moment of gratitude.

“At this time I’d like to thank all veterans for their service to our country,” he said before the cabin applauded.

“It’s a shame because it starts out peaceful and then….” Brauning said, trailing off.

“It’s pretty hostile still,” he said, unclear if he was speaking about Baltimore or Kandahar. “Before winter they’d attack the base three or four times a day, mostly small-arms fire. But it’s always been like that.”

If he was worried about what was happening on the streets of his hometown, he didn’t let on. After all, it must be difficult to be scared of anything after you’ve been shot at in a foreign country. But many people are worried about what’s going in Baltimore—the police who were attacked at times, the firefighters who chased flames in all corners of the city until early morning, and the family of Freddie Gray, whose death will be forever associated with Monday’s riots and whatever happens going forward.

Gray was memorialized just hours before the riots started, but it’s the riots that will immortalize him. Dondi Johnson died in police custody after his spinal cord was severed in the back of a paddy wagon. Ten years later, no one remembers Johnson. Ten years from now, it’s hard to imagine anybody forgetting Gray and the riots in his name.

Upon landing in Baltimore, a flight attendant caused concern among passengers planning to navigate the city. Depending on their final destinations, she said, travelers should “check with police to see if your route has been blocked off.”

“Welcome to Baltimore, mostly,” she added.

The family at the corner store had only broken glass, a trashed business, and a brief visit with a cop to welcome them home. As the officer pulled away, the boy continued to sweep. His mom and dad surveyed the damage, speaking through their son in their native language, and cleaning up as best they could. Whoever looted the store took everything of value, including the cash register and a box of cash. As his son swept, the father walked over to the roll of pennies and began picking them up off the ground.

Police carry an injured officer from the streets near Mondawmin Mall on April 27, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Violent street clashes erupted in Baltimore after friends and family gathered for the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose death in custody triggered a fresh wave of protests over US police tactics.  Police said at least seven officers were injured -- one of them was unresponsive -- as youths hurled bricks and bottles and destroyed at least one police vehicle in the vicinity of the shopping mall not far from the church where the funeral took place.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty