Family and friends gathered Monday for the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose death in custody triggered a fresh wave of protests over US police tactics.
Dozens of people arrived at the New Shiloh Baptist church to pay final respects to Gray, who died on April 19 of severe spinal injuries, a week after his arrest in Baltimore.
His death sparked heated demonstrations over the weekend in the blue-collar port city, and police said some 34 people were arrested and six officers injured is street violence.
Friends, family and strangers came together Monday to bury Gray, who lay in a casket next to a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap and a sign reading “Peace y’all.”
“I’m here to pay my respects,” said Kenny Nicholson, a friend of Gray’s who attended with his wife.
Supporters, many dressed in all white, filed into the church where a photo of Gray was displayed among floral wreaths.
A banner reading “Black lives matter and all lives matter” hung in the church.
Another family friend said she had come to give Gray a proper farewell.
“At first, I didn’t want to come. I didn’t feel comfortable. I saw this little boy growing up,” the elderly woman told AFP, without providing her name.
“The Lord will bring the truth,” she added.
Others attended the service to show solidarity with the family, though they did not know Gray personally.
– Protests turn violent –
Thousands were expected to attend Monday’s service, including Broderick Johnson, White House cabinet secretary and head of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, according to a senior administration official.
Heather Foster, an advisor in the White House office of public engagement was also expected to attend on behalf of President Barack Obama’s administration.
Gray’s death sparked days of protests last week, and turned violent Saturday night as crowds hurled traffic cones, soda bottles and trash cans at police officers, before randomly smashing store windows, looting merchandise and vandalizing police cars.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called for calm Sunday night.
“We define ourselves by how we respond, and I hope that as the eyes of the country are on Baltimore, that we see very clearly that this is a community that’s willing to confront tough issues, that’s willing to demand accountability, but also demands peace and progress at the same time,” she said, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Tensions have risen in Baltimore since Gray’s death, which lawyers said was caused when 80 percent of his spine was severed following his arrest.
Police have launched an investigation into the incident, and six officers have been suspended with pay as they look into how Gray died and what transpired after he was arrested.
Police confirmed Gray requested medical help and asked for an inhaler after he was detained and said last week he should have received medical attention.
They also revealed that Gray, contrary to police department policy, was not buckled into his seat in the van, which made at least three unexplained stops on its way to the police station.
Gray’s arrest was caught on video by several bystanders, and he can be heard howling in apparent pain as his limp body is being dragged by police.
His death is the latest in a string of high-profile confrontations between African Americans and police, including the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in August in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson.