What can Freddie Gray’s family do to stop the Baltimore riots?

In calling for an end to rioting in Baltimore, Freddie Gray's family is taking part in a broader effort to promote peaceful paths to justice and change. Is it enough to make a difference?

Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo
Demonstrators throw rocks at the police after the funeral of Freddie Gray on Monday, April 27, 2015, at New Shiloh Baptist Church in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a Baltimore Police Department van.

Freddie Gray’s family publicly called for an end to the violence that has engulfed Baltimore after protests over the 25-year-old’s death while in police custody devolved into rioting over the weekend.

The statement, which Mr. Gray’s mother and stepfather made after their son's funeral service Monday, is part of a broader effort by community leaders to promote peaceful paths toward justice and change in a system marred by tensions between the black community and police.

A key question: Do family and community leaders have an influence over the minority of the protestors who've turned to violence? The world appears to be witnessing an emotional battle for moral authority over the path for lasting reform in Baltimore. 

“I want y’all to get justice for my son, but don’t do it like this,” Gloria Darden, Gray’s mother, told reporters. “Don’t tear up the city just for him. That’s wrong.”

The situation echoes the events in Ferguson, Mo. last summer. Then, victim Michael Brown's family pleaded for the violence to stop.

"Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction," they said in a statement after the November 2014 announcement that there would be no indictment of the police officer who shot their son. "Let's not just make noise. Let's make a difference."

They continued:

"We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions. While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen. "

It's difficult to know whether their words prevented anyone from participating in the ensuing violence in Ferguson. But arguably Baltimore needs voices of reason – in the form of the victim’s families, community leaders, residents, and others – to permeate the noise and the chaos to get to a real, deeper societal change.

Those who really care about making “Black Lives Matter" understand it’s not about throwing rocks or lighting cars on fire, wrote Mark Sappenfield in The Christian Science Monitor.

The pastors and activists who have led Black Lives Matters rallies from Ferguson to Baltimore have been adamant that this conversation must happen peacefully, if not always lawfully. But they are just as determined that the conversation must take place, however wrenching it might be.

One vivid and visceral illustration of the fight for moral authority in Baltimore was the act of a local mother who was caught on camera slapping her son after she saw him on television participating in the riots.

Another resident, Robert Valentine, stood in front of a line of police in riot gear Monday evening, shooing away any young people who tried to approach the police, CNN reported. Mr. Valentine told the network that the youth had no business being on the streets when they should instead be at home, “studying and doing something with their lives.”

Even Hollywood has chimed in, with stars from the HBO series “The Wire” – a critically acclaimed show filmed almost entirely in Baltimore, according to Business Insider – have taken to social media to suggest alternate means of pursuing justice.

But the violence – which began to escalate Saturday and grew worse Monday night – has prompted Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to declare a state of emergency in the city and deploy the National Guard in what he called a last resort to restore order. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced a weeklong, citywide 10 p.m. curfew.

To address the city's real problems, say some in Baltimore, the community needs to move beyond the emotional and violent backlash. 

As "The Wire" creator and author David Simon wrote on his blog:

The anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease.  There was real power and potential in the peaceful protests that spoke in Mr. Gray’s name initially... But this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory and a dimunition of the absolute moral lesson that underlies his unnecessary death.

“If you can’t seek redress and demand reform without a brick in your hand, you risk losing this moment for all of us in Baltimore,” Mr. Simon added. “Turn around. Go home. Please.”

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