When youth advocate, Ifetayo Kitwala, 14, stood to announce the beginning of the Intersection’s summer gun violence campaign on June 25, she couldn’t help but mention the string of violence from the previous weekend. One incident on Friday, June 21, she said left a man shot in the face and chest just a few feet away from her doorsteps.
“How do we fix the gun violence issue in Baltimore?,” asked Kitwala. “We’ve yet to find an answer to that question.”
The inception of the listening campaign by Intersection, a non-profit youth advocacy group, to create dialogue around gun violence, comes just two days after one of the bloodiest weekends in 2013. Twenty people were shot in the city, eight of them fatally, according to police.
Law enforcement officials and politicians have been scrambling to address the spike in crime during the first weekend of the summer, holding press conferences and canvassing neighborhoods for leads.
In Charles Village, the Intersection also decided to join in the fight, said co-founder Zeke Cohen, 27, a former educator with Teach for America and Elizabeth Lawrence Prize for Excellence recipient.
“Today, we assert that in Baltimore, death is not an exception; it’s an expectation,” said Cohen during the announcement. “When 20 people were shot last weekend, the New York Times failed to notice.”
He said the listening campaign is about breaking the silence on gun control and gun violence. “We assert that human life is sacred whether it is taken in Aurora, Colo. or in Baltimore, Md.”
The campaign was spearheaded by the organization's steering committee, a group of eight high school students who determine the next issue for the Intersection to tackle, based on what’s currently facing the residents of Baltimore.
Students at the Intersection have also taken on the DREAM Act and a massive voter registration drive as campaigns.
During the event, Intersection students, fellows and co-founders spoke to the audience about being fed-up with gun violence and pushing for an open dialogue about solutions to curb violence.
“I’ve lost uncles and cousins and close family friends to gun violence,” said Taikira White, 16, a student at Baltimore City College High School. “It’s not something that recently started happening. It’s been happening for as long as I can remember.”
Dena Robinson, an Intersection fellow, said while she’s a Baltimore transplant, originally from Brooklyn, NY, she has lost a total of 10 friends to gun violence.
“We should not become complacent in a society where gun violence is as ingrained in our daily realities as brushing our teeth,” said Robinson. “We cannot continue to let communities be completely desensitized to this violence.”
The audience of more than 60 people was organized into smaller groups to talk about ways of reducing gun violence in Baltimore.
One Baltimore-based educator said an increase in civic pride will help to curb gun violence in the city. Another group member offered increased investments in education and alternatives, rather than the criminal justice system. One person said employment and job force training will help to curb crime.
Cohen said during the campaign, the Intersection hopes to reach more than 400 students, parents, teachers and community members to push conversations and solutions.
White said, while she wishes she could get rid of all of the guns in Baltimore, she knows her wish is unrealistic. She said instead, they are working to raise the community to speak up and find solutions to the problem.
“My ultimate goal is to see less lives lost,” White told the AFRO. “I want to see less funeral lines.”