Wednesday, 29 April 2015


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Freddie Gray’s Funeral Draws Thousands in Baltimore

Service comes after largely peaceful protests erupted in pockets of violence

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake hugs a member of the Gray family during Freddie Gray's funeral at the New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore on Monday.ENLARGE
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake hugs a member of the Gray family during Freddie Gray's funeral at the New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore on Monday. PHOTO: SHAWN HUBBARD FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
BALTIMORE—About 3,000 people packed a church here on Monday for the funeral ofFreddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man whose fatal injuries under police custody earlier this month have spawned near-daily protests and heightened scrutiny of this city’s law-enforcement tactics.
“Freddie’s death is not in vain,” the Rev. Jamal Bryant said in a forceful eulogy. “After this day, we are going to keep on marching. After this day, we are going to keep on demanding justice. After this day, we are going to keep exposing our culture of corruption.”
Just hours after the funeral of Freddy Gray, the 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody in early April, violent riots broke out in Baltimore, Md. Photo/Video: AP
Mr. Bryant bemoaned what he called the “prison pipeline,” poor schools and other societal factors that he said disadvantage many young African-Americans such as Mr. Gray. But he also exhorted African-Americans to take charge of their lives: “Get your black self up and change this city.”
Also Monday, the Rev. Al Sharpton said he will visit Baltimore this week at the invitation of local clergy members and will help organize a two-day march from Baltimore to Washington sometime in May after a spate of high-profile deaths of black men by police nationwide.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) was one of several elected officials who attended Mr. Gray’s funeral. “We will not rest until we address this and see that justice is done,” he told the crowd gathered at New Shiloh Baptist Church. “We will not fail you.”
During an emotional address, Mr. Cummings said that four years ago he buried a nephew who was “blasted away” in a still-unsolved crime. “I’ve often said our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see, but now our children are sending us to a future they will never see,” he said. “There is something wrong with that picture.”
William Murphy, Jr., the Gray family’s lawyer, cast Mr. Gray’s death in a broader context. “Most of us are not here because we knew Freddie Gray, but we are all here because we know lots of Freddie Grays, too many,” he said.
Mr. Murphy railed against what he called a “blue wall” of police officers backing each other up in all cases. “We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for video cameras,” he said. Part of Mr. Gray’s arrest was captured on cellphone camera and appears to show him screaming and dragging his legs as he is placed in a police van.
Richard Shipley, Mr. Gray’s stepfather, read a poem written by two of Mr. Gray’s sisters. The poem, which didn’t directly touch on the circumstances of his death, concluded: “I am going to miss your smiling face. I think of you and wonder why. I might cry or smile, but at the end of the day I am one day closer to you.”
Mr. Gray, a high school graduate, sang in the youth choir at his church, enjoyed fashion and played for a neighborhood football team, according to the funeral program. In addition to his mother, father and stepfather, he is survived by five sisters. A brother died previously.
Broderick Johnson, the head of President Barack Obama’s initiative for minority men, attended the funeral. Others there included Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake,the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. and a daughter of Eric Garner, the a 43-year-old black man who died in July in New York after a white police officer put him in an apparent chokehold.
Before the funeral, a stream of mourners began filing past Mr. Gray’s open casket, where his body lay dressed in a shirt and tie. A pillow bore his image above the phrase, “Peace y’all.”
When family members paused at the casket, one woman sobbed audibly, placing an arm across Mr. Gray’s body and slumping against the coffin. Two large screens on the sanctuary wall flashed a message in red letters: “Black lives matter & all lives matter.” Choir members, backed up by a band, clapped and swayed as they sang the hymn, “I’ll Fly Away.”
The funeral comes at a tense time in the city. On Saturday, largely peaceful protests over Mr. Gray’s death erupted in pockets of violence, leading to 35 arrests and causing minor injuries to six police officers. On Sunday, Ms. Rawlings-Blake and two dozen local religious leaders issued a “call for peace.”
After the funeral, a group of young demonstrators pelted police with rocks in a nearby neighborhood. It was unclear if the incident, which prompted the early closure of several prominent businesses and a University of Maryland campus, was in response to Mr. Gray’s death.
Also on Monday, the Baltimore Police Department said it had a “credible threat” that several gangs in the city had made a pact to “take out” law enforcement officers. A spokesman said he didn’t know if the threat was allegedly made in connection with the Gray incident.
Terri Hall, 55 years old, was among the first mourners to arrive at the church Monday morning. Her son knew Mr. Gray, she said, and she last saw Mr. Gray a few days before his arrest on April 12, when he stopped to play with her disabled 5-year-old grandson.
“I can still see that smile—that smile brightens up my day,” Ms. Hall said, sitting by a fountain in front of the church. The West Baltimore resident said she was praying for Mr. Gray’s family and the broader community, but also for police.
“I have a heart for everyone,” she said.
Mr. Gray was arrested after running from a police officer when the two made eye contact in an area known for drug dealing, officials have said. When they caught him, officers allegedly found a switchblade in his pants pocket.
A family lawyer has said that while Mr. Gray was in police custody, his spine was nearly severed at his neck and he had three broken vertebrae. Mr. Gray died of his injuries on April 19. Six police officers have been suspended with pay, and five have given statements to police. None has commented publicly on the case.
Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said an investigation hasn’t determined how Mr. Gray was hurt. He said Friday that it is possible Mr. Gray was injured when officers detained him, as well as during the time he spent in the back of a police van, handcuffed and in leg irons.
“We know he was not buckled in the transportation wagon as he should have been. No excuses for that, period,” Mr. Batts said last week. “We know our police employees failed to get him medical attention in a timely manner, multiple times.”
The U.S. Justice Department has launched a civil-rights investigation into Mr. Gray’s death.
Mourners arrive for the funeral service for Freddie Gray in Baltimore on Monday.ENLARGE
Mourners arrive for the funeral service for Freddie Gray in Baltimore on Monday. PHOTO:DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES
Melissa McDonald, who said she was Mr. Gray’s cousin, said she came to the church early so she could spend time with his body.
Ms. McDonald said she had a message for Mr. Gray: “Let him know I love him, we haven’t forgotten about him, and we won’t let this go.”
“Hopefully, justice will be served,” said Ms. McDonald, 36, who lives in the Baltimore suburb Catonsville. “I doubt it will be.”
Edward Watson, a 26-year-old West Baltimore resident who said he had known Mr. Gray for more than a decade, attended the funeral with his mother. He described a swirl of emotions: “Anger, confusion, wondering why.”
Mr. Gray was funny and friendly, he said. “You had to do something real bad to make him mad,” he said.
Mr. Batts has said the police department’s findings will be turned over to the city’s chief prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby, who will determine whether to bring criminal charges in state court.
On Saturday, Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, criticized Mr. Batts and other police officials for their comments at a Friday news conference.
“These comments appear to be politically driven and in direct contrast to the commissioner’s own request not to jump to any conclusions until the entire investigation is complete,” he said in a statement. “We believe in the rule of law and continue to believe that our officers, like all American citizens, are innocent until proven guilty.”