1 Year After Freddie Gray's Death, Baltimore Is Still In Turmoil
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
A year ago today, Freddie Gray died in the city of Baltimore. The young African-American man sustained fatal injuries while in police custody. A medical examiner said 80 percent of Freddie Gray's spinal cord had been severed. Gray's death sparked outrage.
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Breaking news in Baltimore, where at this minute, rioting is becoming increasingly violent.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: A very serious situation in Baltimore. These violent clashes began just hours after a funeral for Freddie Gray.
GREENE: Rioters set fire and looted local businesses. At Gray's funeral, the Reverend Jamal Bryant delivered the eulogy. He also stood with Gray's family and appealed for calm in the city. We reached Reverend Bryant yesterday. He got on the phone with us just before taking part in a voting rights march in Washington, D.C. A year ago, Reverend Bryant called for many changes in Baltimore. I asked him what progress he has seen.
JAMAL BRYANT: Very slow, almost at a snail's pace. And that's why our local election is so important as we elect a new mayor, a senator and city council because we don't want promises. We want to hear a plan.
GREENE: I know there's been some movement, and the Maryland General Assembly approved some new police training...
GREENE: ...People can file complaints about police officers anonymously.
BRYANT: I think that the police issue is really just a seed plot but not the full harvest. The reality is we're still dealing with joblessness and lack of opportunity and really subpar education. So policing is important, but there are many different variables that play a role in what happened for the uprising in Baltimore a year ago.
GREENE: It sounds like you're talking about problems in neighborhoods that are so entrenched. Is there an argument that it's only been a year and that you couldn't expect major progress in such a short time?
BRYANT: In under a year, the city and state are poised to develop Port Covington, a development with Under Armour who is looking for a tax abatement that would be the largest in the history of the state.
So in that same time, we need to see something about the 16,000 abandoned homes, the 70,000 heroin addicts, the 43 percent high school dropout rate. So Baltimore knows how to make progress. I think that we're just selective in where and how we do it.
GREENE: Reverend Bryant, the trial of the six police officers who were accused in Freddie Gray's death - I know a lot of people were hoping it would be wrapped up by now. There's been one trial at this point that ended in a hung jury. Are you still hopeful that there will be trials and...
BRYANT: All I have is optimism and believing that justice will finally reveal itself when it's been hidden from Baltimoreans for so many years. You'll have to excuse me, we're getting ready to start the march now.
GREENE: Can I ask you one more question?
BRYANT: Yes, sir.
GREENE: You said that there's been this lack of progress and you're going to have to take alternative measures. What exactly are you talking about?
BRYANT: Frederick Douglass said it very clearly - power concedes nothing without a demand. And I think that for far too long we've been very passive in our demands that it has been confused as a request. But we've got to demand that justice prevails, that education is a priority and housing begins to be refurbished.
GREENE: And one final question, Reverend, I know you have a march in a few days in Baltimore coming up. But should people be concerned that this could turn violent, that there could be some frustration?
BRYANT: No, not at all. It's a march for peace, for nonviolence so that we don't have another bloody summer as we did in the summer of 2015. It's a unity march. And so we're not protesting against anything or anybody but calling the community together to mobilize as one.
GREENE: Reverend Bryant, I'll let you get back to your march. We really appreciate you taking the time. Thank you very much, sir.
BRYANT: Thank you.
GREENE: Reverend Jamal Bryant is a pastor at the Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore. He was speaking to us from a voting rights march in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.