Baltimore’s riots and ‘The Purge’

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Some of Baltimore's unrest may have been inspired by the "Purge" movies

Movies are about a dystopian America where all crime is temporarily legal

CNN  — 

In a sobering example of life imitating art, the chaos sweeping the streets of Baltimore may have been partly inspired by a series of action-horror movies.

Baltimore police said rioting at a shopping mall and elsewhere Monday afternoon started amid rumors, spread on social media, of a “purge” led by large groups of marauding high school students.

The term appears to be a reference to 2013’s “The Purge” and its sequel, last year’s “The Purge: Anarchy,” about a dystopian future America where on one day each year, all laws are suspended for a 12-hour period and all crimes, including murder, become temporarily legal.

In the movies, set in Los Angeles, people barricade themselves in their homes at night while gangs of violent “purgers” roam the streets. The government markets the sanctioned mayhem as a catharsis that reduces crime on the other 364 days of the year – when in fact it’s really a means of population control, mostly against people living in poor urban neighborhoods.

A scene from 2014's "The Purge: Anarchy," about government-sanctioned lawlessness in Los Angeles.

Both “Purge” movies were box-office hits and a third installment, “The Purge: Vengeance,” is planned for 2016.

The Baltimore Sun reported that a flier circulated widely among city school students via social media touted a “purge” to begin Monday at 3 p.m. at Mondawmin Mall and end downtown. The flier included an image of protesters smashing the windshield of a police car in Baltimore on Saturday, the Sun said.

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Maryland’s largest city has been on edge since an African-American man, Freddie Gray, died April 19 from a spinal cord injury he suffered while in police custody. Peaceful protests gave way to violence Saturday night and again Monday, as agitators threw bricks at police, looted stores and set fire to cars and buildings.

Scattered references to #purge and #ThePurge began appearing in Twitter and Instagram posts Monday about the unrest in Baltimore.