The Rev. Jesse Jackson on Thursday urged the people of Baltimore to continue their peaceful protest and expressed his faith in the leadership of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
But the veteran civil rights leader said the public has been forced to wait too longer for answers in the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man who died Sunday after sustaining a spinal cord injury while in police custody a week earlier.
"If six young black civilians took an unarmed white police officer and put him in a truck and he came out dead, we wouldn't be waiting this long," Jackson said in a telephone interview with The Baltimore Sun. "People get the impression there is a cover-up."
He praised the men and women who have been taking part in protests this week.
"People have shown great restraint. I hope they maintain that restraint," Jackson said. "The worst thing that could happen is people are indifferent to this killing, and do nothing. ... The police wagon became a tomb."
Of the protests, he said, "If it becomes violent, it distracts from the message. The agenda will be lost and it will be burned up in the fire. I hope that that does not happen."
Jackson, who spoke to Rawlings-Blake on Wednesday, said the mayor has been leading the city in the right direction. He said her failed proposals on police misconduct during the recent General Assembly session deserved support. Among her proposals that failed during the 90-day session were changes to a police bill of rights to make it easier to discipline officers.
Rawlings-Blake needs statewide support to lift families out of poverty through jobs, education, mental health clinics and better housing, Jackson said. He said he hoped the protests would help lead to such change.
"The blood of the innocent continues to redeem and renew people's energy to fight for justice," Jackson said.
In Baltimore on Thursday, leaders from local interfaith groups also issued a statement urging citizens to express their anger "in peaceful and constructive ways."
The Baltimore Interfaith Coalition and the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council suggested that this weekend, congregations gather outside their houses of worship before or after services as a "visible sign of solidarity." Worshipers could observe a moment of silence and reflection, the groups suggested.
Jackson said he's been invited by community leaders to come to Baltimore, but no date has been set for a visit.
His son, former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois, has been at a halfway house in Baltimore since last month after being released from federal prison. He pleaded guilty two years ago for improper use of campaign funds.