As Baltimore experiences the first calm after the April 25 funeral of an unarmed black man who died of injuries sustained when police arrested him, local black Southern Baptist pastor Ryan Palmer recalls the moment he first understood the heart of rioters whose violence he can’t condone.
Hours after the victim Freddie Gray was buried, the Baltimore Orioles were set to break a five-game losing streak as they played the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards. In the backdrop of exuberant fans, a discontented crowd gathered on the streets.
“It was a unique dynamic to watch this unfold on the television, that you had one group primarily African American protesting in the streets, and you had another group primarily Anglo enjoying the baseball game just a few blocks away” Palmer told Baptist Press April 28. “In the darkness of the street on the news media coverage, you could see the light from the stadium; they were that close. So we knew that as the day began to wind down, these two groups of people were becoming more and more likely to interact.”
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked the baseball fans to remain in the stadium to allow police to push back the looters.
“The people in the stadium, a large number of them became so irate that they could not leave and do as they wanted to, that they began a protest in the stadium — and I haven’t seen any of this covered nationally — but it, their chant was most troubling,” Palmer said. “They were chanting the name of the young man who died in police custody, Freddie Gray, but they put a four-letter verb in front of his name … [expletive] Freddie Gray. And for me, at that moment, I got insight to what some of these young folk were protesting.
“There is a latent racism and a sense of frustration that grows and flows out of being ignored. As someone aptly put it in one of my conversations I had with a friend, ‘Anger and lack of education [are] a dangerous combination.’ And so while they were yet still peaceful, and not doing the violence, the other group was shouting [expletives] to the deceased.”
Palmer, pastor of Seventh Metro Church, is among Southern Baptist pastors serving in the city that has been under a state of emergency since April 27, when Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called in more than 2,000 national guardsmen to help policemen, and Rawlings-Blake imposed a 10 p.m.–5 a.m. curfew that remains in effect. On the most violent day, looters burned at least 15 buildings and 144 vehicles, injured more than 20 police officers — some critically — and accounted for nearly 250 arrests, according to news reports.
Southern Baptist pastors and other clergy have been busy praying and meeting across denominational lines with politicians and community leaders. At some meetings, pastors prayed with gang members who have been accused of joining hands to kill police.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press