Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., center, speaks in front of faith and community leaders at a news conference calling for peace in response to a Freddie Gray protest that turned violent, Sunday, April 26, 2015, at the Bethel AME Church in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
As the family of a 25-year-old man who died in police custody prepared to begin mourning their loss, his arrest and death became the focus of Sunday messages delivered by ministers in some Baltimore area churches.
A regional clergy organization, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, urged ministers to respond to the events and issues surrounding Gray’s death. At the historically Black Episcopal Church of the Holy Covenant, the Rev. M. Dion Thompson held an open conversation with his parishioners, and he put up a signboard on The Alameda in front of the church that read “RIP Freddie,” said one congregant.
The Rev. Jamal Bryant, who will deliver the eulogy at the young man’s funeral Monday, told congregants at the Empowerment Temple AME Church “somebody’s going to have to pay” for the death of Freddie Gray. Several members of Gray’s immediate and extended family attended the service, and one of his sisters joined the church, said spokeswoman Nicole Kirby.
Bryant announced that his church would pay for Gray’s funeral and met with family members after the morning service. Gray died from injuries he sustained while in police custody after repeatedly requesting medical attention he never received until he became unresponsive at the Western District Police station, where he was taken after his arrest on April 12.
Bryant chided city officials and police for systemic antipathy toward poor, Black people that he said leads to their deaths. He also challenged officials’ initial reactions to protests throughout last week that culminated in a national rally at City Hall on Saturday.
They’ve treated people “like dogs let out of a cage and not citizens who are outraged,” Bryant said. He acknowledged there are many police who serve with integrity but added, “If you’re Black in America your life is always under threat.”
Bryant also addressed the violence that ensued following what had been a mostly peaceful march and demonstration Saturday. After the rally, a splinter group of protesters headed to Orioles Park at Camden Yards, where they taunted police, blocked major roadways and intersections, looted and damaged some downtown businesses and tossed bottles and other objects at lines of police in riot gear. At least 34 people were arrested, Baltimore police said.
“Violence never leads to justice,” Bryant said, reiterating a plea for peace made by Gray’s twin sister, Fredericka, at a news conference Saturday night with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Following the service, Gray’s family received visitors at a wake Sunday afternoon at the Vaughn Greene East Funeral Home.
Denise Cabrera is a journalism lecturer at Morgan State University.