I began this column the morning after six people were killed overnight (Monday night into early Tuesday morning June 12-13), another gruesome aftermath, linked to a recent torrent of violence, during this the most murderous year so far in our city’s history.
The past two weekends living in West Baltimore have seemed particularly harrowing even in neighborhoods that endure peril like ubiquitous summer humidity. We have been tortured by the horrible din of a city seemingly under siege; incessant staccato gunfire, Foxtrot helicopters whizzing overhead, the constant wail of sirens from police, fire and ambulance.
In fact, the last couple of weekends have reminded me of my summers returning home from college to work as a lifeguard in the 1980’s, when the crack epidemic imploded cities like Baltimore. Uzi submachine gun fire echoed throughout neighborhoods just a couple of blocks from where I grew up off of Gwynns Falls Parkway and Foxtrot searchlights flooded my bedroom almost on a nightly basis.
The bad old days are back again. Truth is, they never really went away.
While many people point fingers and others ruminate about the fate of the police commissioner, one woman came up with a cogent idea, a simple plea; stop killing each other, at least for 72 hours.
“Baltimore Ceasefire: Nobody Kill Anybody,” from August 4th to August 6th. Immunity for Baltimore from homicide for just three days seems so basic, yet so elusive.
The Baltimore Ceasefire (at least this version of it) was birthed by Ericka Bridgeford, a self-proclaimed, “West Baltimore girl,” who is director of training for Community Mediation Maryland. She is also one of the most brilliant (and authentic) people I know. The idea came to her after a conversation with her son.
“My son was driving me home from work one day and he said…, ‘Mommy, did you know that the murder rate is higher than it’s been in our history?’ And I said, ‘Nope, I didn’t know that’ and I went on a rant about, you know, what organizations should be doing and why aren’t people using their street cred to do this and that and a third,” Bridgeford said. “And so, I woke up on another side of the bed the next day and said, ‘If I’m fussing about what somebody else should be doing, then that means I need to be accountable to do it myself and not only that, but reach out to those people that I’m fussing about,’” she added.
Bridgeford reached out immediately to another strong sister, her best friend Ellen Gee, director of The Evolution of Perspective, an initiative that celebrates Black culture and endeavors to bridge the communication gap within Black communities.
“When we were in the planning phases of the ceasefire, we thought about the messaging and who that specific hashtag would speak to,” Gee said. “So, there are people who are very, very aware, acutely aware of the aggressive nature and the aggressive culture of Baltimore City and there are people who actively participate in that. I wanted to talk to people who violence is not on their mind,” she said. “So, the message about a Baltimore ceasefire doesn’t speak to people who just go about their day to day…I go to work, I come home, I mind my business. But, the idea to keep peace on your mind, keep it top of mind, that’s where that particular part of the movement and the hashtag comes from.”
Bridgeford and Gee have garnered support from several entities and individuals contributing to the effort in diverse ways, from providing printing services for flyers to hitting the streets and talking directly to people most vulnerable to violence.
“I personally believe that the murder rate has more to do with powerlessness, people feeling powerless, and that we as a country equate violence with power,” Bridgeford said. “And so, in the space of feeling powerless, we automatically do the things we think are going to make us feel powerful. And if we call a ceasefire, not the mayor, not the police commissioner; we’re determining for ourselves we just want 72 hours of a breather,” she added.
“We at least need to try. It might not work, but we know people will get killed if we don’t do it.”
Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and host and executive producer of AFRO First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday 5 p.m.-7 p.m. on WEAA, 88.9.