Members of Empowerment Temple Church of Baltimore responded to an emotional service Sunday, donating money to aid the funeral expenses of Freddie Gray, whose death in police custody has sparked local protests and national outcry.
With members of Gray's family present, more than half of the hundreds of congregants at the morning service approached the altar and offered alms after Rev. Jamal H. Bryant, pastor at the church, delivered a sermon touching on the Gray family's loss, issues of police misconduct and the demonstrations Saturday that started peacefully but ended with violence.
"I told the family that with everything they're dealing with, I do not want on their plate trying to figure out how to pay for the funeral," Bryant told the congregation. "I told them Empowerment Temple was going to step up to the plate."
Gray, 25, was arrested by city police on April 12 and died a week later after suffering severe spinal cord injuries while in police custody.
Bryant has been at the forefront of efforts to call city officials to task for Gray's death, leading rallies and calling for charges against the six officers involved in Gray's arrest. Bryant was among religious leaders calling for peace Sunday after 34 people were arrested and six police officers were injured during Saturday protests.
Bryant asked his congregation to applaud efforts of "good police officers ... who put their lives on the line to help protect our community." The congregation responded with a standing ovation.
But he sharply criticized what he called "corrupt" police and city officials, saying Gray's death and the circumstances surrounding it have exposed city failings that must be fully investigated. He did not name any official specifically.
The police department, the U.S. Department of Justice
"What's done in the dark will come to light," Bryant said. "That's why we've got these elected officials scrambling around, because they wanted to keep undercover the spirit of corruption that exists in this city.
"For those of us who live in the city, you might not know a lot about the Gospel … but you know something about roaches," Bryant said. "When the lights are off, they will take over your kitchen. But when you turn the lights on, every roach runs for cover.
"The lights are on," he said.
Bryant said that though Gray's funeral on Monday will not be held at Empowerment Temple he encouraged members to attend. Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at New Shiloh Baptist Church, 2100 N. Monroe St. The Gray family will hold a visitation at the church before services, beginning at 10 a.m.
Members in attendance Sunday said Bryant's message to protest peacefully yet maintain pressure for the investigation into Gray's death struck the right combination.
"It was a powerful message," said Michael Hinton, 45, of Baltimore. "We need to stop the violence and police brutality.
"I believe Baltimore city is going to be changed," Hilton said. "I just pray that we will come together."
During his comments, Bryant likened events surrounding the Gray case to last year's controversy in Ferguson, Mo., where unarmed teenager Michael Brown was fatally shot by police last year. He told church members they must get involved with efforts to hold city leaders accountable.
"This movement has no place for sellouts … while it was Freddie Gray last Sunday, it could be one of your sons next Sunday," he said. "You cannot keep silence in the face of injustice."