During the 2015 uprising following the death of Freddie Gray, Robert “Meech” Tucker seemed to be everywhere — on the front lines of protests and famously celebrating in the street with a rabbi after charges were filed against the officers involved in Gray’s death. Along the way, eventual Mayor Catherine Pugh took him under her wing.
Things came crashing down for Tucker just days later when, with tensions still running high, he was involved in an incident that momentarily caused people to think police had shot him at ground zero for the unrest. In reality, his own gun went off when he tossed it away while trying to conceal it from police.
On Oct. 30, Tucker died from what the state medical examiner says was a self-inflicted gunshot wound a day earlier at his home in West Baltimore. He was 29.
It marked the end of an eventful, at times troubled life punctuated by a moment in the spotlight, stints behind bars and, his family said, a desire to see better days for himself and his city.
Tucker’s mother Earldine Bagley recalled her son as a “well-liked child" who enjoyed spending time with his family and listening to music.
“He wasn’t a talker,” Bagley said, noting that his father died when he was 9 years old. “He never really got over it.”
Like Gray, Tucker grew up near Penn-North and in a home contaminated with lead paint — court records show he won a $500,000 settlement at age 14.
The two weeks following Gray’s death were a whirlwind for Tucker, then 23, as he became prominent in several protests. Keisha Clark, his older sister, said she dropped him off at protests and that he wanted to march for Gray and liked seeing the city come together.
One of the most indelible images of that spring featured Tucker photographed dancing in the street with Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro, an image that went viral. Shapiro wore his prayer shawl and a kippah, while Tucker had on a backwards hat and a shirt that read: “I Bleed Baltimore.”
Shapiro told The Sun last week he and other rabbis had ventured down to the intersection to offer healing. He saw Tucker dancing in the street and approached.
“I just wanted to be there with him,” Shapiro recalled. “He didn’t see me coming, but he turned around with the biggest, sweetest smile on his face. It was understood why I was there: that we were together, we were friends.”
Shapiro said within moments, a large crowd joined in on the dancing, which later evolved into prayer. “It was a really holy moment, one of the most powerful moments I’ve been a part of," he said.
On May 4, 2015, a few days after that moment, police said they were told that Tucker was carrying a gun through the intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenues — the site of days of tensions. He ditched the gun, causing it to go off, and Tucker began screaming as if he had been shot or injured. A crowd began shouting and throwing things at police, and Fox News erroneously reported that police had shot him.
“His actions incited misguided bystanders who attacked innocent police officers,” the U.S. Attorney, Rod Rosenstein, said at the time.
Before he was booked, Pugh, who was a state senator at the time, intervened and made it possible for Tucker to see his mother. “I asked him if he was OK, and he said he was. He said that he was scared,” Pugh told the City Paper. He called her from jail the next morning and said he “wanted to do better, he said he wanted to be in auto repair business.”
Tucker pleaded guilty to gun possession and was sentenced to 42 months in prison.
While locked up, Tucker’s mother said he earned a GED. She has the certificate in her home, along with the program from his 2014 baptism.
He was shot in February 2019, not long after his release. He was struck three times, and lost his index finger due to an infection.
Court records show he tested positive for drugs multiple times during probation check-ins, and was required in late 2019 to enter into 28-day drug treatment. Clark said he was doing good after his release, but wasn’t working and was doing things in the street that they didn’t discuss.
Then, late last month, according to dispatch tapes, police were called on Oct. 29 by a woman that Tucker lived with, who told them he had shot himself upstairs in their home. Police said a weapon was found next to his body, and an autopsy ruled his death a suicide.
Bagley said she was not aware that police consider his death a suicide, and said it came as a shock to her. His family said they’ve had no communication with detectives.
“If it was a self-inflicted wound, we’re OK with that, but right now we’re lost,” Clark said.
Bagley said her son’s organs were donated and his heart went to a 17-year-old, while his kidneys, pancreas and liver went to older men.
She said that makes her proud. “He’s still living on in somebody,” she said.
Tucker is survived by three children.
Those needing help for themselves or others can call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. In Maryland, people can also dial the 211 helpline or text #MDMINDHEALTH TO 898-211 to receive regular caring messages.