ABOVE PHOTO: Friends and family of Freddie Gray gather around his casket before his funeral, Monday, April 27, 2015, at New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
By Jessica Gresko and Tom Foreman Jr.
BALTIMORE — A mix of mourning and civil rights protest took center stage Monday at a funeral attended by thousands paying tribute to a man who died after suffering a severe spinal injury in police custody.
Freddie Gray’s death under mysterious circumstances is the latest touchstone amid the national debate over police use of force. Many who had never met him gathered 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.
Gray died April 19, days after his encounter with police. The 2,500-capacity New Shiloh Baptist church was filled with mourners, many of whom filed past Gray’s casket before the service began.
While the funeral was underway, police said in a news release that the department had received a “credible threat” that three notoriously violent gangs are now working together to “take out” law enforcement officers. Gray’s death has heightened tensions between residents and the police, with protests at times turning violent.
Just hours after Gray’s funeral, dozens of people sparred with police in riot gear outside a mall in northwest Baltimore. Some threw rocks and bricks at the officers, who were wearing helmets and face shields.
One man held his arms up as the police moved toward him, an action that has been repeated throughout the Gray rallies.
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.
Jackson also spoke, saying the answer to violence isn’t more police but more job training and housing.
“There’s nothing wrong with us. There’s something wrong with the formula,” he said.
Gray’s death has prompted near-daily demonstrations. Gray was arrested one week before he died when officers chased him through a West Baltimore neighborhood 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.
Gray 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.