Erricka Bridgeford knows her presence at a crime scene is, by nature, bittersweet. It's often a sure sign of a life lost, but also a reminder that life is not and will not be forgotten, thanks in part to her and others who show up to honor that individual's memory.
"What's been amazing to me is when people get killed, families often don't trust anybody during that time... because you don't know who knows what information, who's trying to exploit you or whatever," she says. "I've just been extremely grateful at how much people trust us."
With an all-volunteer team, Bridgeford, a trained community conflict mediator and lifelong Baltimorean, has worked to tackle the city's most infamous, stubborn and existential barrier to progress: gun violence.
Every three months since August 2017, the Baltimore Ceasefire team has rallied residents to band together for a weekend and put down the guns, or show up when someone is killed. They coordinate block parties, barbecues, concerts, job fairs and more to galvanize the city.
And for weeks beforehand, they reach out to community groups, work with schools and launch public awareness campaigns to press those committing an endless tide of shootings in Baltimore to drop the guns, even just for 72 hours.
The key, she says, is "absolutely infiltrating the culture of violence."
Not every Ceasefire weekend achieves the desired no-kill outcome, but there have been enormous successes for a city where 300-plus murders a year increasingly feels like the norm. Take, for instance, the 12 straight days without a murder in February 2018 that began with a Baltimore Ceasefire weekend.
Bridgeford says she's "amazed" at the movement's growth in two years, particularly given its grassroots nature. "There's nobody being paid to do the work. It's all volunteer-driven. All of us are doing it on whatever free time we have."
One of the elements she most appreciates about the work is seeing a family simply accept the presence and help--emotional, financial, whatever else--after the unthinkable loss of a child or loved one.
"To me, it speaks to [the idea] that Baltimore is a place where real recognizes real. Even when people lose their loved ones, they understand that people who work in this movement are working to keep that person from getting killed."
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