Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, April 27, 2015
Police officers in riot gear clashed with rock-throwing protesters on Monday in a neighborhood in Northwest Baltimore, hours after Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man who has become the nation’s latest symbol of police brutality, was laid to rest amid emotional calls for justice and peace.
At least seven officers were injured and one was “unresponsive,” Capt. J. Eric Kowalczyk of the Baltimore Police told reporters.
The violence broke out in the Mondawmin neighborhood, near the New Shiloh Baptist Church, where friends, neighbors, activists and government officials from the local level to the White House–as well as civil rights leaders like the Jesse Jackson and Dick Gregory–had gathered in the morning to eulogize Mr. Gray.
Groups of angry young people surrounded a police cruiser and smashed it in; another cruiser could be seen burning. A drugstore was also looted. Other protesters pelted the police with items picked up at nearby vacant lots–rocks, bricks, boards and chunks of concrete. Some arrests were made.
Earlier, thousands of mourners crowded into a church here on Monday to bid an emotional goodbye to Mr. Gray, who died April 19 of a spinal cord injury while in police custody.
The Rev. Jamal Bryant, delivering the eulogy, spoke of the plight of poor, young black men like Mr. Gray, living “confined to a box” made up of poor education, lack of job opportunities and racial stereotypes–“the box of thinking all black men are thugs and athletes and rappers.”
“He had to have been asking himself: ‘What am I going to do with my life?’” the Mr. Bryant said. “He had to feel at age 25 like the walls were closing in on him.”
As his voice rose to a shout, and the cheering congregation rose to its feet, Mr. Bryant said that black people must take control of their lives and force the police and government to change. “This is not the time for us as a people to be sitting on a corner drinking malt liquor. This is not the time for us to be playing lottery,” he said.
“Get your black self up and change this city,” he said. “I don’t know how you can be black in America and be silent. With everything we’ve been through, ain’t no way in the world you can sit here and be silent in the face of injustice.”
“When society is sick and mean, the innocent will be slain,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson told the congregation. He noted the contrast between Baltimore’s poor, overwhelmingly black west side, and the city’s bustling, prosperous downtown.
“Sixteen thousand abandoned or vacant homes, 25 percent unemployment–we don’t need more police, we need more jobs,” he said. “Why can’t the west side get the same things downtown gets?”
William Murphy Jr., a lawyer who is representing Mr. Gray’s family and is a fixture in Baltimore legal and political circles, spoke of a “blue wall” culture of police officers covering for one another’s wrongdoing.
“It’s got to be torn down,” he said to a rousing ovation, calling for a special prosecutor to look into police brutality.
“The eyes of this country are all on us, because they want to see whether we have the stuff to make this right,” he said. “They want to know whether our leadership is up to the task.”
Much of that leadership was seated in the pews, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, who was one of the speakers. Also among the mourners were Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and president of the N.A.A.C.P.; three aides to President Obama; and several family members of others killed by the police in various parts of the country, including Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, who died after a police officer put him in a chokehold last year on Staten Island.
Before the funeral began, Melissa McDonald, 36, a first cousin, remembered Mr. Gray, as others did, as a funny, easygoing man with a big heart who had dreams beyond the West Baltimore neighborhood where he had been arrested twice on drug charges before the police stopped him in what ultimately became a fatal encounter this month.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has so far stayed out of the Baltimore protests, said on Monday that he had been asked “by many in the Baltimore area” to get involved, and that he intended to do so, citing reports–unconfirmed–that the police might not finish an inquiry by Friday.
Mr. Sharpton said he intended to come to Baltimore this week “to have a meeting with grass-roots activists and faith leaders to schedule a two-day march in May from Baltimore to Washington.” He said the march would bring the case of Mr. Gray–and other black men who have died after encounters with the police–to the attention of Loretta Lynch, who was sworn in as attorney general on Monday and who he said “must look and intervene in these cases.”
Mr. Gray was chased and restrained by the police on bicycles at the Gilmor Homes, a public housing development in Northwest Baltimore, on the morning of April 12; a cellphone video of his arrest shows him being dragged into a police transport van, seemingly limp, and screaming in pain.
The police have acknowledged that he should have received medical treatment immediately at the scene of the arrest, and have also said that he rode in the van unbuckled, prompting speculation here that he may have been given a “rough ride,” in which he was intentionally jostled. After officers got him to the police station, medics rushed him to the hospital, where he slipped into a coma and died on April 19.
The police have said they will wrap up their inquiry on Friday, and will submit the results to the state’s attorney for Baltimore–Maryland’s name for the local prosecutor–who will consider whether to bring criminal charges.