BALTIMORE — Rioters looted stores and hurled rocks and bricks at Baltimore police Monday, injuring several officers just hours after thousands mourned the man who died after suffering a severe spinal injury in police custody.
Seven officers were hurt. Some had broken bones, and one was unresponsive, said Capt. Eric Kowalczyk. Television footage showed a police cruiser in flames and a CVS drug store being overrun. Officers using shields and wearing helmets used pepper-spray in an effort to keep the rioters back.
A helicopter circled overhead as groups of rioters moved through the city. One group piled onto and rode a car as it drove down the street.
Monday’s riot was the latest flare-up over the mysterious death of Freddie Gray, whose fatal encounter with officers came amid the national debate over police use of force. Tensions have escalated in the days since in a city with a history of friction between police and the communities they serve.
Many who had never met Gray gathered earlier in the day in a Baltimore church to bid him farewell and press for more accountability among law enforcement.
Early in the service, the attorney representing Gray’s family, Billy Murphy, received a standing ovation after calling on the six officers who arrested him to tell the public what happened.
“This is our moment to get at truth. This is our moment to get it right,” Murphy said.
The 2,500-capacity New Shiloh Baptist church was filled with mourners. But even the funeral could not ease mounting tensions.
Police said in a news release sent while the funeral was underway that the department had received a “credible threat” that three notoriously violent gangs are now working together to “take out” law enforcement officers.
A small group of mourners started lining up about two hours ahead of Monday’s funeral. As they began filing into the church, the white casket with Gray’s body was opened, flanked by floral arrangements. A rope was placed in front of the casket to prevent people from getting too close. One person used a cellphone to take a photo of the body.
Placed atop Gray’s body was a white pillow with a screened picture of him. A projector aimed at two screens on the walls showed the words “Black Lives Matter & All Lives Matter.”
The service lasted nearly two hours, with dignitaries in attendance including former Maryland representative and NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume and current Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes.
Erica Garner, 24, the daughter of Eric Garner, who died in New York police custody, attended Gray’s funeral. She said she came after seeing video of Gray’s arrest, which she said reminded her of her father’s shouts that he could not breathe when he was being arrested on a city street.
“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?”
With the Rev. Jesse Jackson sitting behind him, the Rev. Jamal Bryant gave a rousing and spirited eulogy for Freddie Gray, a message that received a standing ovation from the crowded church.
Bryant said Gray’s death would spur further protests, and he urged those in the audience to join.
“Freddie’s death is not in vain,” Bryant said. “After this day, we’re going to keep on marching. After this day, we’re going to keep demanding justice.”
Bryant’s oratory mingled mourning with tradition: each statement punctuated with raised arms and “Amen!” from the audience.
Grey was arrested one week before he died when officers chased him through a West Baltimore neighbourhood and dragged him into a police van.
Police said Gray was arrested after he made eye contact with officers and ran away. Officers held him down, handcuffed him and loaded him into the van. While inside, he became irate and leg cuffs were put on him, police have said.
Grey asked for medical help several times, beginning before he was placed in the van. After a 30-minute ride that included three stops, paramedics were called.
Authorities have not explained how or when Gray’s spine was injured.
Police acknowledged Friday that Gray should have received medical attention on the spot where he was arrested — before he was put inside a police transport van handcuffed and without a seat belt, a violation of the police department’s policy.