BALTIMORE — Please, not even a demonstration. Freddie Gray’s family had asked there be quiet on Baltimore’s streets the day they laid him to rest. And above all, no violence.
Raging hordes turned a deaf ear to that Monday. But a handful of people repeated the family’s message. They became criers in the desert against countless young people flinging rocks at police, breaking windows, looting and setting fires.
The peacemakers — clergy, Gray’s family and brave residents — placed themselves in the rioters’ way. Their message was the same.
“I want them all to go back home,” said the Rev. Jamal Bryant.
“It’s disrespect to the family. The family was very clear — we’ve been saying it all along — today there was absolutely no protest, no demonstration,” he said.
But the messengers were a finger in a dam that quickly crumbled, as rowdy groups swelled into a full urban riot. It overshadowed the message peaceful protesters delivered on prior days — justice for Gray.
The 25-year-old African-American man died from spinal injuries after being arrested earlier this month.
Mourners walk into violence
The early fits of violence came in the afternoon, about the time mourners left Gray’s memorial services blocks away, Bryant said. They bumped right into it.
“For us to come out of the burial and walk into this is absolutely inexcusable,” he said. He did not want to see it spread to downtown Baltimore, where some rioters said it would, and he organized people to stand in the way.
“We have a line of gentlemen from the Nation of Islam to build a human wall, as well as men from the Christian church making that human wall,” he said.
But as crowds turned into multitudes, the intervention became a drop in the bucket by compare, and police lines were also no match.
Without police support
As officers in riot gear receded, flames engulfed cars and stores and roared out of apartment buildings into the night sky. A senior living facility under construction by a Baptist church burned to the ground. The blazes stretched the fire departments’ resources, as at least 30 trucks deployed.
Looters streamed into a CVS, bodegas and liquor stores and walked out with what they could carry.
A young man in a blue sweatshirt tried to talk people down by himself.
He walked up to CNN correspondent Miguel Martinez, as a store nearby was being looted. It later went up in flames. The man, who didn’t say his name, was disgusted by what was happening in his neighborhood and disappointed in the police response to rioting.
There was a line of police down the street, not far away. “They could have moved down here to stop it,” he told Martinez.
Against all odds
The Gray family’s lawyers, again, put the family’s wish out to the public that there be no protests that day, let alone violence.
It’s marring the cause and hope for change that may have come out of the investigation into Freddie Gray’s death, said family attorney Mary Koch. “That’s just disintegrated into just looking at Baltimore city and thinking that the city is the city of violence,” she said.
Against all odds, a handful of individuals kept trying to stop it.
A tall, adult man walked up to a young man who was confronting riot police. He slung an arm over his shoulder, turned him back around in the other direction and marched him away from police lines.
But as they strolled past a crowd, a young man behind them hurled a stone at police, putting his whole body into the throw.
At least one young man paid the price for his participation, when his mother turned up to spank him home. Before running cameras, she slapped him in the head again and again, driving him away from the crowd, as she cursed.
Police Commissioner Anthony Batts later thanked her. “I wish I had more parents that took charge of their kids out there tonight,” he said.
After night fell, giving way to a 10 p.m. curfew for juveniles, Robert Valentine stood alone with his back to a line of police in riot gear. He shooed away young people tempted to approach them.
“Go! Step your –ss away!”
“I’m just a soldier,” said Valentine. He told CNN’s Joe Johns that he was a veteran of the Vietnam War.
Young people had no business on the streets, he said. “They need to be in their home units studying and doing something with their lives.”
Crips and Bloods
Even Baltimore members of the Crips and Bloods, two street gangs renowned for drug dealing and extensive violent crime — and for killing each other — came together with others who condemned the rage that swept through their neighborhoods.
“The guys who pulled me aside are self-identifying as Crips and say they don’t approve of whats happening. ‘This is our community,’ ” Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton wrote on his confirmed Twitter account.
Gang members joined community leaders and Gray’s family for a news conference Monday night on the stage at New Shiloh Baptist Church, which had held Gray’s funeral. An announcer thanked them for coming to the church.
The gangs have signed a peace deal and are uniting to push against police lines in protests, according to a report by The Daily Beast. Bryant, the reverend, also mentioned their peace treaty.
But police say the gangs’ purpose goes much further — that they and another gang called the Black Guerilla Family plan to “take out” law enforcement officers, police said. “This is a credible threat.”
The gangs are consistently pursued by the FBI.
Gray family condemnation
At the end of the day, Gray’s family had the last word on the violence at the news conference. It wasn’t good.
“To see that it turned into all this violence and destruction, I am appalled,” said Richard Shipley, Gray’s stepfather.
“I want y’all to get justice for my son, but don’t do it like this here,” said Gray’s mother, Gloria Darden, who wore a T-shirt with her son’s photo.
“I don’t think that’s for Freddie,” said his twin sister, Fredericka Gray. “I think the violence is wrong.”
After their comments, Gray family lawyer William H. Murphy took the microphone. Violence is not the path to change, he said. Then he got back to the message that had been bitterly marred by the rioting.
Murphy asked for church audience members to raise their hands if they had experienced police brutality or personally knew someone who did.
All but a few hands went up.
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