By Scott Malone and Ian Simpson
BALTIMORE (Reuters) - The mayor of Baltimore on Sunday lifted a night curfew imposed on the city last week to stem a spate of looting and arson that followed the funeral of a young black man who died from injuries suffered while in police custody.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she believed sufficient calm had returned to allow her to end the 10 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew, which took effect last Tuesday after protests over the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray turned violent on Monday.
"My goal has always been to not have the curfew in place a single day longer than was necessary," the mayor said. "I believe we have reached that point today."
The mayor said the Maryland National Guard would begin withdrawing from the streets over the next week.
The surprise announcement on Friday by the city's chief prosecutor that she was bringing criminal charges against the six police officers involved in Gray's arrest has helped to defuse outrage over his death.
The protests in the mostly black city of 625,000 have been a reprise of nationwide anger that erupted last year after the deaths of unarmed black men in confrontations with police in Missouri, New York and elsewhere.
"What we saw over the past few days is not just the resiliency of our city, but also our communities coming together," the mayor told a news conference. "We want to heal our city."
Republican Governor Larry Hogan welcomed the decision by the Democratic mayor, who had faced criticism for what some saw as a slow initial response to Monday's violence.
"It's going to take a while for us to get totally back to normal, but I think lifting the curfew is a good idea," he said at a separate news conference on Sunday.
He said an additional 1,000 police officers and 3,000 National Guard troops had been brought in to help keep the peace but were now going home.
Hogan was among those who expressed concern over the financial impact of the curfew, which forced bars and restaurants to close early.
BUSINESSES HIT BY CURFEW
Baltimore's downtown Inner Harbor district, a tourist destination, resembled a ghost town on Friday and Saturday nights, normally its busiest times.
"Baltimore curfew is seriously hurting businesses glad to see it lifted," wrote someone on Twitter using the name God First.
But many tweets accused authorities of having applied the curfew selectively and mostly in black neighborhoods.
Asked to respond to criticism that the curfew was enforced more rigorously in black neighborhoods than elsewhere, a Baltimore Police spokesman said law enforcement was concentrating resources in areas of greatest concern.
“Our constitutional and moral obligation is to work to keep the city of Baltimore safe,” Captain J. Eric Kowalczyk said at a media briefing.
Baltimore residents praised the decision by prosecutor Marilyn Mosby to charge one of the officers involved in Gray's arrest with murder and five others with lesser crimes.
Mosby said the state medical examiner ruled Gray's death a homicide. She said he was unlawfully arrested and the officers repeatedly ignored his pleas for medical help while he was handcuffed, shackled and lying face down in the back of a police van.
Her swift decision to bring charges contrasted with decisions last year by grand juries to clear officers in the Missouri and New York deaths.
(Additional reporting by Patrick Rucker in Washington, and Ellen Wulfhorst and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Frances Kerry and Frank McGurty; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Eric Walsh)