The funeral of Freddie Gray and the mass peaceful protests that followed his death were eclipsed Monday night by widespread uprisings and standoffs between young people and police in Baltimore. It started on Saturday in Camden Yards, where kids busted police windows, broke glass at a mall and had standoffs with Orioles fans, some of whom chanted at them, “F—k Freddie Gray!” But then things appeared to die down.
Things took a more dramatic turn on Monday a few hours after the funeral of Gray, when people burned a police car, smashed windows, threw rocks at officers and looted a CVS. At least 15 officers were injured, 27 people were arrested, and the National Guard and troops were called in. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced a curfew starting Tuesday from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Orioles Chief Operating Officer John Angelos spoke about his outrage, not concerning property being damaged, but the loss of working-class jobs being outsourced and diminishing civil rights protections bent on controlling an unfairly impoverished underclass.
But pastors and community activists who have been pounding the pavement all week were working hard to keep the focus on Freddie Gray.
“Today, peace. Tomorrow, justice,” beloved Baltimore pastor Frank M. Reid said quietly as he waited for Gray’s casket to be carried out. Reid was talking about a coalition of pastors from Baltimore intent on setting an agenda for the future of the city. But now they were focused on the life of Gray.
Over a dozen clergymen from all over Baltimore laid Gray to rest at the New Shiloh Baptist Church. Gray, a West Baltimore citizen whose spinal cord was severed and who slipped into a coma as he rode in a paddy wagon, was 25 years old.
The past four days had been filled with peaceful protests, with Baltimoreans and activists from all over the country walking through blocks and blocks of abandoned streets and decrepit housing toward shining redevelopment downtown, ending at City Hall chanting: “No justice, no peace! No racist police!”
Gray was remembered at the funeral by friends and mentors as being a comedian with a gift for imitating voices and as a person who bought neighborhood kids ice cream from the ice cream truck. Clyde Boatwright, a former staff member at his former high school, Carver High School, described him as someone who never caused any trouble the entire time he knew him at school.
“Today we are focused on being a blessing to this family. Tomorrow we will meet and come up with an agenda. We have been working together all weekend long,” said Reid, recognizing Gray’s grieving family of sisters, stepfather, mother and father in the audience.
But there was no way to avoid the political nature of the funeral. This was more than just a funeral; it was equal parts cause cèlébre, rousing gospel-inspired celebration of Gray’s life and political firestorm. A coalition of preachers including Reid, Harold Carter Jr., the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Jamal Bryant, Pastor Lisa M. Weah and Bishop Walter S. Thomas gave remarks during the service. Famed Baltimore attorney William “Billy” Murphy offered biting commentary on police brutality: “We are calling for the six police officers being implicated to come forward and tell it all, just like we tell our citizens to do.”
Families United for Justice, a group of relatives of black victims of police violence—including the mothers of Amadou Diallo, Ramarley Graham and Kimani Gray; the sister of Shantel Davis; and the niece of Alberta Spruill—traveled from New York to the funeral.
Mayor Rawlings-Blake was given lukewarm applause when she was recognized in the audience. Rawlings-Blake has been criticized for her focus on business development and, most recently, blaming the problems of poor blacks on “out-of-wedlock births.” Former Mayor Sheila Dixon, considered more of the people’s mayor, received two thunderous standing ovations filled with outbursts of “We love you, Sheila!” and “We need you, Sheila!”
If Baltimore has proved nothing else to the world for the past week, it has shown that it is in desperate need of change. There are 16,000 abandoned homes in neglected pockets of the city and a 25 percent unemployment rate. And while downtown development has blossomed for several decades, the majority of the city and the residents live in a kind of poverty normally reserved for underdeveloped countries. “Why can’t the Westside get the same thing that downtown gets?” asked Murphy.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) became emotional when he implied that the media was only suddenly interested in the life of Freddie Gray. “I see all the cameras here,” he said as he got choked up about his nephew who was shot and the killer never found. “But did you see Freddie when he was alive? Did you see him? Did you see him?”
Black leaders like Dick Gregory and Michael Eric Dyson and White House representatives were on hand to hear the stirring eulogy by the Rev. Bryant delivered in the tradition of the black church. He evoked the poem of Claude McKay writing from a one-bedroom apartment in the middle of the Harlem Renaissance: “If we must die, let us nobly die, let it not be like hogs hunted and pinned in an inglorious spot, while round us bark the mad and hungry dogs.”
At the service, attorney Murphy said it best: “We are not here because we grieve for Baltimore. We are here because we grieve for a nation. The whole world is watching us.”