When Baltimore was engulfed in violence in April of 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. had just been assassinated. From Washington, D.C., to Chicago, from Boston to Louisville, civil unrest ruled the day as feelings of helplessness, anger and resentment bubbled over.
A year and a few months later, LIFE’s Bill Eppridge visited Baltimore, one of the cities that had experienced the greatest levels of violence during those days in April. Eppridge went out into the night, camera in hand, to capture the aftermath of a city thrust into chaos. His pictures have an eerie quality to them. If the streets are not dark, they are empty. If they are not empty, the people that walk them protect themselves with guns and German Shepherds.
The events of April 1968 had given rise to a style of architecture LIFE dubbed “Riot Renaissance,” a series of modifications made by business owners to prevent break-ins and looting. Window displays were replaced with brick, concrete and plywood. Sightlines between pedestrians and shopkeepers were erased as barriers were erected.
The crime and, just as notably, fear of crime that characterized Baltimore in 1969 was not a simple case of cause and effect. Though the riot had brought death, injury and destruction in a concentrated wave, Baltimore was just one of many U.S. cities experiencing a rising tide of violence during the late 1960s. Those who could afford to get out—and they were mostly white—got out. Those who could move neighborhoods often did so only to find that the violence had followed them.
The question that residents, politicians and scholars faced was not why, but what now. LIFE suggested that a hybrid approach might be the only path to take:
The gulf of fact, fear and antagonism may in the end be bridged by doing the things each side so strongly endorses—neither law and order alone nor social programs alone, but both.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.