Baltimore riots: The church must be a 'moral voice' says pastor as leaders urge peace

ReutersMany have been calling for peace in Baltimore amid the riots which first broke out on Monday.

Religious leaders have formed a united front as tensions rise in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suffered a spinal-injury while in the custody of city police.

Violence erupted on Monday while Gray's funeral was taking place and protestors gathered again on Tuesday, met by police in riot gear. A state of emergency was declared and a curfew put into effect from 10pm, but some refused to comply. A tweet from the Baltimore Police account branded one group of demonstrators who remained "aggressive and disorderly" and said they had begun a fire outside a library in the city. Those protesting believe Gray's death on April 19 is yet more evidence of racism entrenched in the US police force.

Religious leaders have been among the first to call for peace amid rising tensions, and churches have been opening their doors to those seeking refuge. "Our role is to be a moral voice at this time," Rev Heber Brown, pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, told the Huffington Post.

He and other clergy stood together to form a wall of protection during the protests, along with Muslim leaders from the city. "Our best sermon right now is not anything we say but what we do," Brown said.

Another minister, Rev DeVante Mills, said the church he attended was welcoming those involved in the violence to relax and receive counselling. "The body of Christ said stand bold in situations like this. I think the pivotal role we have is keeping peace," he explained.

Most of those protesting are young people, and pastor of New Beginning Church of Chicago, Corey Brooks, has joined up with Pastor Jamal Bryant – who delivered the eulogy at Gray's funeral – to work with those who feel disenfranchised.

"To lend a voice, to talk to young people, that's what I'm called to do. That's what I feel led to do. I want to do anything and everything I can to help our people not just seek for justice, but also to have peace. That's what it's all about," Brooks told ABC7.

In an interview with the Today show, Bryant said that "violence and justice never go together in the same sentence" but that young black people have little confidence in the legal system. "What you have to look at is not Freddie Gray in isolation but look at what the young people have seen for the last 36 months," he said. "Trayvon Martin, and George Zimmerman walks free. Michael Brown, and Darren Wilson walks free. Tamir Rice...and absolutely no indictment."

The violence, however, "does not reflect with legacy of Freddie Gray or the movement that we've been a part of the last week," Bryant continued. In fact, he said there have been signs of reconciliation among the people of Baltimore. Rival gangs the Bloods and the Crips signed a peace treaty, and Christian and Muslim leaders are working together.

"Today we are Baltimore, resilient people, about to rise from the ashes and move forward to rebuild and prayerfully turn the page for a new chapter," Bryant said.