Freddie Gray was born August 16, 1989, and died April 19, 2015. Yesterday, his family laid him to rest.
The near-capacity funeral at West Baltimore’s New Shiloh Baptist Church was by turns mournful, joyful, and politically forceful. Speakers included Baltimore preacher Jamal Harrison Bryant, Gray’s stepfather Richard Shipley, U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. The families of several black men and women who were killed by police in New York City had driven through the night to attend: Eric Garner’s daughter, Amadou Diallo’s mother, Kimani Gray’s father, Shantel Davis’ sister, Ramarley Graham’s mother. Shipley read a poem that Freddie Gray’s family had written together: “I’m 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’m one day closer to you.”
“Most of us are not here because we knew Freddie Gray,” said Billy Murphy, the family’s attorney. “We’re here because we know lots of Freddie Grays. Too many.”
Outside the church, Rovell Little, a 45-year-old West Baltimore native, said that Gray’s death had attracted so much attention in part because of deep-seated inequality in Baltimore and a police force that seemingly works from a different rule book when working in the inner city. “The projects where this incident happened are where I grew up,” he said. “I knew Freddie’s father. And the same shit that happened to Freddie used to happen to us when we were kids. They used to threaten us, told us what they were going to do to us, and all that.”
In New Shiloh’s parking lot, where I spoke with Little, congregants milled around in small groups, wearing suits and dresses or Black Lives Matter and R.I.P. Freddie Gray t-shirts. Several people I spoke with knew Gray from the neighborhood, and others had come to the funeral simply to show support. The church itself is large and modern; rows of abandoned and boarded up houses sit one block over.
“You see the difference: When you’re in the inner city, they treat you all kinds of ways. But the further you get towards the harbor, the county, and all that shit—you can sit on your steps. In the inner city, they tell you to go in the house at a certain time. I’m 45 years old, why would I want to go in the house at 8 o’clock if you say go in the house? Or if I have a certain amount of money on me, you want me to explain to you where I got my money from. They don’t do that shit in the county. They don’t do that shit down by the harbor.” Baltimore’s Inner Harbor—with shopping and the National Aquarium, beside the baseball and football stadiums—is the chief tourism district, the focus of long revitalization after the blight of the 1970s.
When asked if he believed the police’s treatment of West Baltimoreans was racially motivated, Little replied without pause: “You’re fucking right, it’s racially motivated. They figure, like, we don’t have no education, we don’t know the law, they can just take from us. And it’s not like that.”
Darren Spivey, a middle-aged man who moved from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore five years ago, expressed similar grievances. “I respect the people who come here to visit and spend their money, but what about the people who actually live here?” Spivey said. “Let’s go into some of these neighborhoods. You can go anywhere on the west side, and you can see a whole row of houses, for two blocks, empty, abandoned. And yet we have so many homeless people. And the Inner Harbor’s so shiny. And [Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake] thinks that’s part of Charm City. And that’s not part of Charm City. The people are what makes it Charm City.”
Ultimately, Spivey said, “What brought me out here today is that it’s another life, another black man that’s lost, and no one has any answers, as usual.”