The Baltimore police union president Wednesday drew outrage by comparing Freddie Gray protests to a "lynch mob" because they called for the officers involved to be jailed immediately.
Gene Ryan, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, expressed sympathy for the family of Gray, 25, who died from a spinal cord injury Sunday morning, a week after he was chased and arrested by police. Officials have not said how he was hurt but believe it happened during the 30-minute ride in the back of a police van.
Ryan expressed concern about the "rhetoric of the protests," which have continued all week since Gray's death.
"The images seen on television look and sound much like a lynch mob in that they are calling for the immediate imprisonment of these officers without them ever receiving the due process that is the Constitutional right of every citizen, including law enforcement officers," Ryan said in a statement.
William "Billy" Murphy, the attorney for the Gray family, said he could not fathom that the Baltimore police union could ever liken protesters to a "lynch mob" when police have a history in America of lynching black people.
"We've been the victims of the lynching and now we're the lynch mob?" he asked. "The president of the police union called peaceful protests and the anger at the death of a man to severe and unfathomable injuries while in police custody a lynch mob? It doesn't get more insensitive or insulting than that. These remarks illustrate why black people and the police don't get along."
Murphy called for "an immediate apology and a retraction."
"He needs to issue an apology at the speed of light and focus on the more important issues of how this black man didn't deserve to die and have his spinal cord severed and his neck broken — how that happened," Murphy said.
Murphy said he could not understand how Ryan did not consider his statement more carefully.
"This level of ignorance of history needs to be remedied by an education by the real history of Black America, a history that he has evidently never been exposed to," Murphy said.
Ryan walked back the comment in a news conference with police union attorney Mike Davey, saying, "Maybe I need to reword that," while continuing to stand up for the officers he said had committed no crime.
He and Davey acknowledged tension between police and citizens and said they hope to work with city officials to restore the relationship.