Fleeting peace as Baltimore pays final respects to Freddie Gray



Mourners gather at New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore April 27 to memorialize Freddie Gray Jr., who 
died April 19, one week after being arrested on a weapons charge and sustaining a severe spinal cord injury in West Baltimore while in police custody. (Olivia Obineme | Special to the Review) 

By Paul McMullen

pmcmullen@CatholicReview.org

Twitter: @ReviewMcMullen

 

For four hours April 27, Freddie Gray Jr. was patiently and prayerfully memorialized.

That peace, however, was extremely fragile.

Gray, 25, died April 19, one week after being arrested on a weapons charge and sustaining a severe spinal cord injury in West Baltimore while in police custody. Thirty-six hours after a downtown protest over his death turned violent, a funeral was held for Gray a few miles to the northwest, at New Shiloh Baptist Church.

Related article: Catholic leaders: Freddie Gray tragedy highlights ongoing need for improved police-citizen relations

An hour-long, open-casket wake preceded the 11 a.m. service, which lasted more than two and a half hours.

Midway through the funeral, the Baltimore Police Department/Criminal Intelligence Unit reported that it had received credible information that gangs including the “Black Guerilla Family, Bloods and Crips have entered in a partnership to ‘take out’ law enforcement officers.”

The threat of a new wave of violence led some Baltimore businesses to close early April 27, as CNN broadcast helicopter images of youths hurling bottles and debris at law enforcement officials near Mondawmin Mall, just north of New Shiloh Baptist. Six Baltimore police officers involved in the arrest of Gray were suspended with pay, pending the outcome of an investigation into the circumstances of his death.

Baltimoreans spent the dinner hour and early evening hours watching the violence spread on local TV and national cable outlets, as rioters burned civilian and law enforcement automobiles, looted stores and ran into Mondawmin Mall to empty its shelves. Amid reports of multiple injuries to law enforcement officers, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan declared a state of emergency and activated the Maryland National Guard, and the Baltimore Orioles game against the Chicago White Sox was postponed.


While Pastor Frank M. Reid of Bethel A.M.E. Church said that “we are not here for a rally, but to glorify God,” there were words of protest from the pulpit and silent political statements made from the pews.

Relatives of Eric Gardner, Amadou Diallo and other victims of police brutality from the group Families United For Justice were in attendance, along with White House representative Broderick Johnson, U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings and civil rights activist Dick Gregory.


Mourners gather at New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore April 27 to memorialize Freddie Gray Jr., who 
died April 19, one week after being arrested on a weapons charge and sustaining a severe spinal cord injury in West Baltimore while in police custody. (Olivia Obineme | Special to the Review) 

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who provided the closing words of reflection, said “The central theme of Easter is, you don’t have to be guilty to be crucified.”

During the wake, the choir sang “I’ll Fly Away” and large screens alternated the messages, “Black Lives Matter” and “& All Lives Matter.”

The eulogy was given by Dr. Jamal Harrison Bryant, of Empowerment Temple A.M.E. Church, who connected the miracle of Lazarus in Luke 7:11-15 to the death of Gray, an asthmatic who, as the Baltimore Sun reported, was sickened by lead paint as a child.

“Luke tells us, the young man (Lazarus) died,” Bryant said. “Luke never told us how. … Was it asthma? Lead paint? Excessive force? Not wearing a seat belt? All I know is, he (Gray) died.”

Bryant challenged the community.

“It is not the time for us,” he said, “to be on the corner drinking malt liquor, or playing the lottery or going to the Horseshoe Casino.”


Mourners gather at New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore April 27 to memorialize Freddie Gray Jr., who 
died April 19, one week after being arrested on a weapons charge and sustaining a severe spinal cord injury in West Baltimore while in police custody. (Olivia Obineme | Special to the Review) 

While Gray had a lengthy police record, Cummings contrasted his obituary, which recounted his being in the youth choir and a junior usher at Royal Light Missionary Baptist Church, with the coverage of his death, saying “Did anybody recognize Freddie Gray when he was alive?”

Billy Murphy, the attorney representing the Gray family, asked “the press not to focus their attention on the one-half of a percent that did not know how to act.”

It was another reference to the events of April 25, when thousands of protesters, such as Ralph Moore, of St. Ann Parish in Baltimore, peacefully marched to City Hall.

Before the evening was done, however, several downtown businesses had been vandalized and looted, and city police had arrested 35. The coverage of that rioting included a live helicopter feed from Channel 13, the CBS affiliate, of a line of law enforcement officers in riot gear stretched across Cathedral Street at its intersection with Mulberry Street, the Catholic Center at the southwest corner, and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the northeast corner. Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, meanwhile, called for prayer and a peaceful community response.

“Freddie’s death is especially tragic because of the circumstances that led to it,’ the archbishop said in an April 27 statement, “and the pain of his loved ones is all the more acute because of what his death represents for them, but also for so many others in our community who may not have known Freddie.

“For Freddie’s death symbolizes the rawest of open wounds and the only salve that will heal them is that of the truth; truth about what happened to Freddie, truth about the sin of racism that is still present in our community, and truth about our collective responsibility to deal with those issues that undermine the human dignity of every citizen.”

Also see:
Archbishop Lori issues statement on Freddie Gray

At annual dinner, Catholic Charities highlights ‘The Power of One’

Deacon Robert J. Hacker remembered for putting faith first

‘All made in God’s image’: Frederick L’Arche events bring together those with and without disabilities

 

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Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.