While the slogan of Baltimore Ceasefire is fairly direct – “Nobody Kill Anybody” – there’s far more to a coordinated non-violence campaign than statistics, says Baltimore Ceasefire co-organizer, Erickka Bridgeford.
“It’s not just about not killing anybody,” the trained community mediator and lifelong Baltimore resident said. “It’s also just about us checking our responses to conflict and our thought processes around conflict.”
Bridgeford, who directs training programs for Community Mediation Maryland, has worked with others over the past several months to organize the second Baltimore Ceasefire weekend of 2017. From Nov. 3-5, city neighborhoods will work to stop any killings or shootings for 72 hours.
It’s a tall order for a city suffering from a gun violence epidemic. The last month alone saw 29 homicides in 30 days, adding to a total of 297 on the year so far.
The first Ceasefire weekend, held from Aug. 4-6, saw six people shot, two fatally. Despite the grim numbers, organizers counted it as a success. Neighborhoods, many covered in “Ceasefire” posters, held cookouts, peace vigils, concerts and more. When someone was shot, residents traveled from around the city to pray and mourn together at the scene.
Bridgeford said some individuals known to be involved in violence received the flyers, and then called Ceasefire organizers to ask how it worked, or to say they’d help with the effort.
Young black men, overwhelmingly the targets in Baltimore shootings last year, were the most responsive to the campaign when approached on the street. They were “grateful” to know somebody is thinking of them, Bridgeford said.
“Young black men said that they were excited that it wasn’t something that they were just talking about, that they were actually going to do it. Crews of people would say, ‘OK, we’re not going to be violent this weekend.”
Inevitably, the movement has its detractors, many of them arguing it’s too difficult to convince young people to put down their guns, or who laughed in August when the first shootings ended the initial peace streak 41 hours in.
“We absolutely have come across people who said, ‘Oh, I don’t think that that is gonna work, I think that people are still going to be violent,’” Bridgeford said.
But she noticed something: “Even when people have thought that it was a waste of time, what’s interesting is people who even laughed at it and said, ‘Really, you think so? Baltimore? Good luck with that,’ they still said, ‘You should try.’”
One key piece of the Ceasefire gospel is the “peace challenge,” in which an organizer or volunteer asks a person to tell three people per day about the campaign. Also crucial what Bridgeford calls the “life-affirming” weekend events. More than 50 neighborhood-level peace-promoting events came under the Ceasefire umbrella from Aug. 4-6.
Organizers have been prepping for this weekend since the first Ceasefire ended. The Living Well Center on Holliday Street downtown hosted public meetings in early August and September, and the Baltimore Community Mediation Center in Waverly hosted one on Oct. 12. Volunteer calls have been held. Just last night, some of them took the Baltimore Metro from the Hopkins Hospital stop out to Owings Mills to spread the word.
Far more crucial than passing out flyers and sharing news, though, is human connection. “A huge piece of it is having real conversations with people to connect each other with what it is in our lives,” Bridgeford said.
“I think that a lot of people don’t understand it. We’re not just out asking people not to kill anybody. We’re also looking each other in the eye and asking, what has happened to you and what’s going on in your life so that we can help connect one another. There’s so much good work happening in Baltimore.”
Click here to learn more about how to help with this upcoming weekend’s Ceasefire campaign, or to keep tabs on any events happening near you.
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