Derrick Lindsey takes an Amtrak train to work in Washington, D.C.
The federal employee — a member of the Central Church of Christ in Baltimore — couldn’t help but notice the reaction of some passengers after his hometown descended into chaos in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death.
“When you ride that train, you can see burned-out houses,” Lindsey said after a recent Sunday worship assembly. “I saw some passengers who were just coming through, and they saw the burned-out houses.”
Riot images fresh in their minds, those passengers linked the burned-out houses to the death of Gray — a 25-year-old black man who suffered a spinal cord injury in police custody.
“No,” Lindsey said. “People have ridden past those homes for 40 years, and they’ve been just like that.”
Cries for justice in Gray’s case have focused a national spotlight on Baltimore’s long-standing racial and economic disparities.
For Churches of Christ in the Baltimore area, the civil unrest has provided an impetus to seek spiritual and social renewal in a city where roughly 16,000 vacant buildings blight the landscape, leaders told The Christian Chronicle.
Driving through the majority-black city after the rioting, Kevin Bethea, minister for the East Baltimore Church of Christ, passed hundreds of boarded-up row houses.
“Look at that. Sad. Sad,” the Baltimore native said of the dilapidated homes, which he blames on city officials, slum owners and decades of neglect.
“Imagine the mindset of the young people that live in these neighborhoods, and then you’re going to have police drag a guy like they did Freddie Gray,” Bethea added. “They already feel abandoned, frustrated, left behind.”
Outside a looted and burned CVS pharmacy, Bethea inhaled a whiff of the smoky air and talked about the need for Christians to step up.
“There’s a lot of hurting people around here that need us, the Lord’s church, to be involved at times that matter most,” the East Baltimore minister said. “We have to be a voice in the community … for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby has charged six officers in Gray’s April 19 death, alleging he endured “a severe and critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet and unrestrained inside (a Baltimore police) wagon.”
Mosby has questioned the legality of Gray’s April 12 arrest, claiming officers found a knife clipped inside his pants only after chasing him without cause. The police union has defended the officers and accused the prosecutor of “political opportunism.”
As weeks of peaceful protests gave way to violence after Gray’s April 27 funeral, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake instituted a citywide curfew. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan dispatched thousands of National Guard troops and law enforcement officers to the city.
The nation watched as structures such as a high-rise senior housing complex and community resource center under construction by a Southern Baptist church burned.
But immediately, the Baptist church began rebuilding the $16 million project.
“Why can’t Churches of Christ do that?” Bethea asked as bulldozers cleared broken concrete and other debris at the senior center site. “We have to have 20 business meetings before we can get started.”
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