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Thousands came together in Baltimore on Monday for the funeral of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man whose brutal death in police custody sparked civil rights protests throughout the city last week.
Gray’s funeral brought in members of his family and community to the 2,500-capacity New Shiloh Baptist church, where they mourned alongside civil rights leaders and activists, including Rev. Jesse Jackson and Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner, who was killed by police last year in New York when he was put into a chokehold.
The persevering message of months of protests throughout the country was clear at the memorial service, with a projector illuminating the words “Black Lives Matter” on a wall above Gray’s casket.
Garner told the Associated Press that she decided to attend the funeral after seeing a video of Gray’s arrest, in which officers dragged and threw the young man into a police van while he screamed in pain. During a 30-minute ride which included three stops, Gray’s spinal cord was severed. He died a week later on April 19.
Garner said the footage was reminiscent of her father’s death, also caught on tape, showing him being placed into a chokehold and dragged to the ground by police officers as he shouted, “I can’t breathe.”
“It’s like there is no accountability, no justice,” she said. “It’s like we’re back in the ’50s, back in the Martin Luther King days. When is our day to be free going to come?”
Bill Murphy, an attorney for Gray’s family, spoke at the funeral and called for the six Baltimore police officers who were involved in Gray’s death to tell the public what happened—remarks which drew a standing ovation, the AP reports. The officers have been suspended, but activists have called for them to face criminal charges.
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“This is our moment to get at truth. This is our moment to get it right,” Murphy said.
He added that “most of us are not here because we knew Freddie Gray. But we’re here because we know lots of Freddie Grays.”
A group of protesters clashed with police around 3:50pm on Monday, with skirmishes taking place near Mondawmin Mall at the intersection of Liberty Heights Ave and Reisterstown Road in northwest Baltimore. The day’s actions are being tracked on Twitter under the hashtags #Baltimore and #FreddieGray.
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Gray’s eulogy was delivered by the Rev. Jamal Bryant, who remarked on the plight of young black men living “confined to a box” of racial stereotypes and a dearth of opportunities. “He had to have been asking himself: ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ He had to feel at age 25 like the walls were closing in on him,” Bryant said.
Jackson also gave remarks at the service, speaking about the institutionalized prejudice that black men and women face, both in the U.S. at large and in Baltimore, which is historically fraught with racial and socioeconomic tension and divide. “When society is sick and mean, the innocent will be slain,” Jackson said. “Sixteen thousand abandoned or vacant homes, 25 percent unemployment—we don’t need more police, we need more jobs. Why can’t the west side get the same things downtown gets?”
Gray’s stepfather, Richard Shipley, read a poem written for Freddie by his sisters, Missy and Carolina. It read: “The tears I have cried for you could flood the earth.”
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