Viral photo sends message of hope from a ravaged Baltimore

Amid burning buildings, broken windows, and demolished police cars, at least one image has emerged from Baltimore in the last 24 hours as a beacon of peace.

A photograph from the day of cleaning that followed a night of rioting shows a young boy offering a bottle of water to one of several police officers clad in riot gear.

Photo by Bishop M. Cromartie via Facebook
Photo by Bishop M. Cromartie via Facebook

“One of many pictures that I captured today in the midst of helping clean up the city and it speaks VOLUMES #baltimore,” wrote Bishop M. Cromartie alongside the image he posted to Facebook Tuesday morning.

By Tuesday evening, the photo had accumulated nearly 50,000 Facebook shares and also made the rounds on Twitter, where many thanked Cromartie for capturing such a “powerful” moment.

The heartwarming image is reminiscent of "Flower Power," the iconic 1967 photograph of a Vietnam war protester placing a carnation in the barrel of a National Guardsman's rifle

Just one day earlier, though, Baltimore looked more like 1968.

Violence ravaged the city Monday evening following the funeral of Freddie Gray — the 25-year-old who died from a spinal-cord injury in police custody earlier this month — with looting, burning, smashing and rock throwing carrying on well into the night. Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and, for the first time since the riots sparked by Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination 47 years ago, the Maryland National Guard was deployed to help city and state law enforcement quell the chaos.

Simultaneously, many of Baltimore's religious leaders set out to promote peace from within the community.

Bishop M. Cromartie, according to his Facebook profile, is a senior pastor at Prophetic Deliverance Ministries Inc. and a resident of Baltimore.  The viral image of the little boy is one of a few photos and videos Cromartie has posted of the protests in Baltimore — both Monday night, before they were hijacked by violence, and Tuesday morning.

He has also used Facebook to urge fellow Baltimore clergy members to unite in the face of upheaval, posting messages such as: “Preachers of Baltimore need to come together and protect and cover our city!!!!!! NOW!!!” and “PLESE [sic] DO NOT USE THIS SITUATION TO GAIN PUBLICITY FOR YOU AND YOUR MINISTRY!!!!”

Like Ferguson, Mo., North Charleston, S.C., New York City and all the other cities that have experienced unrest following high-profile killings of unarmed black men by police in the past year, the outrage in Baltimore is seen as the eruption of long-simmering racial tensions and anger over police brutality. The Freddie Gray incident was just the boiling point.

Gray’s death — ike Michael Brown’s, Eric Garner’s and many others before them — might be an opportunity to finally address and tackle a national problem. Still, another kind of tension exists over how best to express that anger, with many people, including President Obama, condemning the kind of behavior that seared through Baltimore on Monday as “counterproductive.”

There’s been perhaps no better depiction of this frustration than the Baltimore riots’ other viral moment: The video of woman hitting her teenage son after realizing he was among the young people throwing rocks at police officers Monday.

In an interview with CBS News Tuesday, Toya Graham said she had one thing on her mind when she noticed her 16-year-old Michael among those antagonizing the cops — and it wasn’t whether or not she was on camera.

“That’s my only son, and at the end of the day I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray,” Graham said. “But to stand up there and vandalize police officers, that’s not justice.”