Dispatches from Baltimore Ceasefire
By Brandon Soderberg with Maura Callahan, Edward Ericson Jr., Lisa Snowden-McCray, and Baynard Woods
Photos by J.M. Giordano with Marie Machin and Reginald Thomas II
Even shooters say they could use a break from the violence, Baltimore Ceasefire organizer Erricka Bridgeford says at the Community Mediation Center two weeks before the three-day event begins.
Among the many ways she has been engaging the city: rolling up to people who are part of the violence.
“We’ve been in the streets talking to people—talking to people we know are in gangs and things like that and their initial response is, ‘Oh that isn’t gonna work.’ People laugh, like ‘That’s so cute that y’all are trying to do that but that’s not gonna work—but keep trying though,’” Bridgeford says. “So we say ‘OK, even if people over West or over East don’t listen, right now I’m talking to you and you’re saying you can’t keep this hood safe? These six blocks?’”
Baltimore Ceasefire has picked up international media attention and some crucial cosigns from the Baltimore Police, mayor, and many others who actually have the resources to stop the violence, but Bridgeford notes that the “effort,” as she calls it, purposefully doesn’t have a centralized figure.
“What’s important to understand is that it’s not an organization, it’s an effort. It means that the organizing team is just six people and we are not in control of what happens,” she says. “It’s purposeful that there’s not a logo on any fliers. Nothing ever says that it’s presented by these particular organizations or sponsored by these particular places. It’s very purposeful that it says ‘Baltimore residents present.’”
Bridgeford was raised in West Baltimore, specifically Rosemont, and is currently the Director of Training for Community Mediation Maryland, a group she got involved in because of shootings. One of her brothers, Corny, was shot in 2001 by a friend.
“An argument over a crap game,” she says. “And my brother was poppin’ slick at him and [his friend] walked up and blasted him. . . My brother’s children were outside playing at the time.”
After Corny fell into a coma, Bridgeford began missing work due to frequent hospital visits, so Community Mediation helped her work it out with her boss. She became interested in the program after that.
“I have been seeing my friends get killed since I was 12 years old,” Bridgeford, who is 44, adds. When she was 12, she heard shots and saw a friend fall outside her window. When Corny got shot, it hit even closer: She was home at the time and ran to a friend’s house where he was lying and she “watched the blood shoot out of the holes” in him.
There was a shift around that time in her community and the trauma started stacking up, perhaps a bit later for her than others.
“Drugs didn’t really come into our community until the war on drugs,” she observes. “Until Nancy Reagan started saying ‘no’—suddenly, crack.”
It’s this kind of biting, chatty insight that has in part made Baltimore Ceasefire pick up in a way that’s different than other such initiatives, such as the militaristic 300 Men March, anti-violence and peace events powered by police and other specific organizations, or even the improvised bursts of vigils and anti-gun violence events that appeared after the murder of rapper Lor Scoota last summer. Bridgeford has a way delivering real talk respectfully but minus the respectability politics. Consider the slogan for Baltimore Ceasefire, the colloquial and catchy “Nobody Kill Anybody” (she is also a member of Baltimore Girls, which was part of Love On the Line, a cathartic dance party in a laundromat in the days after the Baltimore Uprising got violent).
Bridgeford also avoids finger-pointing and frustrated claims that people in the city aren’t working to stop the shooting.
“If all of us stopped doing that work we do today, the murder rate would triple,” she says. “Some of you just haven’t seen us stop working,” she says before she, like so many others, tries her best to explain the homicide rate. “People in [Baltimore] feel so powerless—and there’s nothing more powerful than taking a life and there’s also nothing darker that’s gonna mess your whole psyche up either.”
Then her thoughts on violence in Baltimore go widescreen and systemic: “America loves violence, it is a violent place, it is founded on violence, it nurtures violence. If we get mad at anybody we go and drop a bomb—forget all the problems we have, let’s go and fix those people with some violence. In order for the whole system to succeed, some of the people have to be at the bottom. Just think about that by itself: That system has to be a violent one, because how do you keep those people on the bottom? You have to use violent methods of oppression to make sure every time they think about rising up you have ways at every turn to keep pushing them down. And then you teach them that violence is the way you gain power.”
Her radical reasonability fuels the ceasefire. She’s quick to admit that it’s very possible people will still be killed over the weekend.
“We would love it if nobody gets killed that weekend and ever, and we recognize this ceasefire is not a cure for violence—which means somebody might get killed,” she says.
At this point, Baltimore Ceasefire is already tipping into viral territory, but Bridgeford has yet to be hounded by just about every media outlet and asked if she can be followed and recorded while she asks hitters to stop shooting. In the following weeks, the ceasefire builds steam and its politics are projected and twisted, though appreciated by many—hell, even Breitbart covered it with a sense of respect. Bridgeford grows more determined but also skeptical and guarded when cameras and microphones appear.
“Even if somebody gets killed, the effort is still worth doing, the effort is still successful,” she says. “It is already shifting the conversation.” (Lisa Snowden-McCray & Brandon Soderberg)
Two days before Baltimore Ceasefire, people congregate outside the big renovated movie theater The Parkway and wait in line for name tags attached to lanyards for CityLab Baltimore.
CityLab, a side project of the respected Atlantic magazine and underwritten by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Open Society Institute, is a gathering of professionals to find solutions to urban problems. Mayor Catherine Pugh will be here, and so will former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, trailed by photographers.
Bloomberg, the billionaire purveyor of financial market monitors and trading platforms, has fashioned himself as a sort of “solutions” master for local governments. CityLab Baltimore is nothing so much as a showcase for Bloomberg’s foundation, which funds experiments and “innovations” in efficient government, focusing on blight elimination, gun control, and addiction recovery.
“Solutions that transcend geography,” as the conference host, Margaret Low, tells the audience.
This all sounds great. The words all fit together smoothly in the familiar patter of neo-liberal bromides. They fall like a soothing rain on the ears of this class of specialists in managerial analysis, the way a preacher’s cadence becalms a congregation.
The CityLab format is a series of conversations with people like Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, Detroit Planning Director Maurice Cox, and Baltimore Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman. The subjects include “Revitalizing Neighborhoods,” “Battling Opioids,” “Telling Baltimore’s Stories,” and “City as Muse.”
There is no feeling of irony here, in a city experiencing its highest-ever homicide rate and hemorrhaging population, that there is no session titled “Stopping the Goddamn Murders.”
Only one speaker on the program hits a dissonant note: D. Watkins, the writing teacher, memoirist, and occasional City Paper contributor speaks in concrete and personal terms about building and defending his east side community; his friend Tony helping people stay physically fit while BPD detectives plants drugs on suspects in the neighborhood. The real challenges of actual Baltimore residents never felt so close to the surface—and then they’re gone.
When BGE CEO Calvin Butler introduces Mayor Catherine Pugh, he tells the congregants that there are “so many examples” of the mayor “bringing together great teams to achieve amazing outcomes.”
Then, a sort of mock interview with The Atlantic magazine contributing editor Alison Stewart, who asks Pugh several times to talk about the city’s challenges, and she won’t do it. Programs like CityLab, Pugh says, are “what we have to do so we can bring folks together and solve our problems.” Stewart asks again, and Pugh says “the challenge is keeping everybody on the same page and writing our own narrative about success.”
The problem, always, is “the narrative.” The mayor does manage to mention “violence reduction” in the context of “health issues, jobs,” and “housing the homeless,” but only to pivot again to her theme of getting “everybody on the same page.”
Pugh says the words “reduce violence” but talks about demolition, blight elimination, and small business. She hardly mentions police, other than to boast about how fast she signed the consent decree with the Justice Department.
“We should not just be measuring crime reduction,” the mayor says. “We should also be measuring how many graduate from our schools.”
The statistic is already published regularly, of course. That the sound of palms slapping faces did not then echo through the theater is, perhaps, a measure of this audience’s politesse.
Stewart asks Pugh about crime, saying the city has had 205 murders so far this year. It is an undercount: As they speak, there are 207, and two hours before a man was shot in the head in East Baltimore, homicide detectives summoned as he clung to life in a hospital.
Tonight two more people will be gunned down. And an hour after this interview, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Developement (BUILD) gather at the Darley Park home of Waddell Tate, age 97, who was killed on July 21, and demand Pugh release her “crime plan.”
Pugh will answer that consultants are reviewing the plan.
“I’m a person that thinks outside the box,” Pugh says at the forum. (Edward Ericson Jr.)
Friday, Aug. 4
At noon on Friday, Dovecote Cafe in Reservoir Hill is packed, like most times of most days. In near-90 degree heat, patrons avoid the outdoor seating, crowding around the few tables in the floral-printed cafe. Among the local artwork and fliers tacked to the wall behind the counter is a poster for Baltimore Ceasefire, which started today and ends on Sunday. A red X over a downward-pointed handgun forms the “R” in “FIRE.” Tagline, “Nobody kill anybody for 72 hours.”
Despite the weather, it’s surprising more aren’t sitting outside to admire the current scene, the most pure image you’ll find in Baltimore or anywhere else: four young kids playing with their new 6-week-old puppy, still all paws and gums.
“His name is Oreo,” says one of the children, a boy of maybe 7 or 8, his arms wrapped tightly around the velvet chest of the black-and-white pit bull, the rest dangling. “But his real name is Sir Paws-A-Lot.”
After letting the boy carry him around the pavement a few steps, Oreo/Sir Paws-A-Lot wriggles out of the boy’s skinny brown arms and begins to gnaw on the metal legs of a chair. A few feet away the boy’s sisters play with a hula hoop. Two hurt themselves, go inside for ice, return to play.
“I wish we lived in this neighborhood,” says one of the girls, stopping to admire the shaded sidewalks and Dovecote’s picturesque paned windows.
The boy picks the puppy back up and cradles him like a baby. The puppy acquiesces, eyes shut. The family has had him for six days, the boy says, and all is well.
He sets the dog down, holding onto his leash, and starts playing cops and robbers with his sisters. Oreo ambles behind. The kids squeeze their scrawny bodies between the posts of an iron fence framing the rowhome next door, dashing in and out as they escape the cops or robbers, depending.
“I’m a bad cop!” shouts the boy as he chases his sisters, Oreo still in tow. “Pew pew pew!”
Soon the sisters are chasing the boy; the cop appears to be losing.
This goes on for a while until a woman exits the cafe with a coffee in hand.
“I know my children are not behind the fence of a private property,” she warns the kids. “There are police around here.”
The kids freeze in their places. The boy stares at his feet; Oreo trips over himself.
“This is ceasefire,” Mom continues. “I don’t want to see y’all going pop-pop-pop!”
As the family begins to file into their car, the boy has to unhinge Oreo’s jaws from around a table leg.
The family drives off, leaving the area deserted. Another woman opens the door to leave the cafe. She turns, sticking her head back in.
“Happy ceasefire!” she says, waving inside.
So far, only play gunshots. (Maura Callahan)
Erricka Bridgeford stares down at least three TV news cameras and has about a half-dozen recorders stuck in her face. Baltimore Ceasefire has just begun with a block party-like kick-off on the corner of Wildwood Parkway and Edmondson Avenue around 5 p.m.
She nevertheless remains focused on one person at a time.
“You know about the Baltimore Ceasefire this weekend?” she yells to a man idling at a red light about to turn onto Edmondson, as if she’s not about to go live on the news.
“I heard about it,” the man yells.
She waves to another driver.
“I’m tryna find a place to park!” he tells her.
She smiles. A DJ under a tent spins house and club classics, such as Aly-Us’ ‘Follow Me’ (some lyrics: “I’m hoping to see the day/ When my people/ Can all relate/ We must stop fighting”) and Baltimore club favorite ‘Doo Doo Brown.’
Cars honk as people leaning onto the lip of the curb wave Baltimore Ceasefire signs and others stalk the median, handing out flyers and posters to cars at the light. A dirtbiker with long dreads and a mask whips around a few times—it’s a party once the dirt bikers show up (the dirt bikers have had their own informal anti-violence mantra for years now: “Bikes up, guns down”).
Across the street, near the Vaughn Green Funeral Home, Sgt. John Ferinde of the Baltimore Police parks his patrol car and gently strolls over and says hi, a tacit endorsement of the event. Although a spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department, T.J. Smith, whose brother Dionay was shot and killed last month, has strongly supported the ceasefire, overall, proper authorities keep a mindful distance, as if they’re aware that being too close to this organic community thing might spoil it a touch.
Sgt. Ferinde is offered a sign as soon as he hits the sidewalk. He declines and notes that as a cop he can’t take any “political stance,” and then politely adds, “but I don’t mean any offense.”
None is taken. They’re happy to have him. A table of women offering “Free Hugs” wave to Ferinde excitedly as he takes in the convivial scene and the masked dirt biker whips by him.
Nearby, two middle-aged residents of the area nod to the music—it has switched to O.T. Genasis’ ‘Cut It’ and a cluster of other current radio rap hits.
“The ceasefire’s wonderful, it’s needed. This is long overdue,” says Bruce, whose shirt reads “Dear Racism, I am not my grandparents. Sincerely, These Hands.”
“I think it’s great, it’s got the kids out here,” Antoine says. “It’s a movement, it’s a start.” (Brandon Soderberg)
At Di J’s Hair, Skin, and Nails Community Prayer Hour there are about 15 people scattered, chatting, forming a kind of loose semi-circle outside the beauty shop on Dolefield Avenue.
The smell of fried food drifts from the carryout next door. Another group of people hangs out on the corner of the small shopping center, where the shop is housed, laughing and talking together. That this is an event tied to Baltimore Ceasefire is easy to miss until Latonya Savage, the organizer and owner of the shop, grips a microphone and begins to pray, eyes squeezed closed.
“We thank you, Lord God, for everything that you are doing. We thank you, Lord God, for this ceasefire. Lord God, we ask you to continue to reign supremely. Lord God, we ask you right now to just be in the midst of those young people,” she says. “Lord, those young people need guidance, Lord.”
An older woman with glasses and an orange tank top, her hair pulled up into a puff, joins the group. She moves close, and soon closes her eyes and raises her hands to the sky.
After the prayer, Savage, who has owned the beauty shop (which is directly across from March Funeral Home) for 21 years, explains why she organized the event.
“I just think it’s important because we’re losing too many young people, and I have a youth program, so young people are my heart. And I just want to see something change,” she says. “We’re past 200 [murders]. And it’s only half this year, so we have to figure out what is the root of the problem and I don’t think it’s going to be one answer; we just have to do a whole bunch of different things to try to reach a whole bunch of different people.”
The name of Savage’s program is the Y.E.S. Club and targets kids when they are young and teaches them self love. A lot of people in Baltimore have been working hard on their own ways of helping the community, she says, but they don’t always get the resources they need: “I think it takes grassroots efforts, because we have politicians that’s good and we have money, but the money is always funneled to some situation that’s really not doing the work. And those of us that are really taking our own money and our own time and making a difference—you would think that you see something working and you’ll funnel that money into that. That’s not how it works.”
She feels that she successfully did what she was called to do in organizing the event, but she’s disappointed that more church leaders didn’t come out to pray with her.
“On Facebook, it was shared maybe 96 times or something like that and if we’re ministers of the gospel our job is to do just what we’re doing out here,” she says. “And for it to be only maybe six ministers to show up, that’s a sad commentary. Maybe it begins at the church. We have to come out of that building. It’s not about being in that building, it’s about being out here working with these people.” (Lisa Snowden-McCray)
If you travel East down Erdman Avenue toward Belair Road you’ll pass three separate sets of mylar balloons wrapped around street signs in memoriam for the murdered. These are everywhere in the city, ubiquitous due to the pervasiveness of death and city’s long tradition of intertwining grief and something like joy. But the balloons stand out here on ceasefire weekend because at the end of this trail of tributes is, well, something resembling a solution.
Out 4 Justice, a policy reform group fronted by ex-offenders, is camping out all night behind Crosstown Liquors in Belair-Edison, offering free food cooked up by Duane “Shorty” Davis, the activist, organizer, homeless advocate, artist, chef, and Baltimore protest scene’s Yoda; as well as desserts from Greg Carpenter’s 2AM Bakery and a resource fair where residents can receive help getting their records expunged, mental health support, child support information, and more.
“We’re going to celebrate life this weekend,” says Nicole Hanson-Mundell of Out 4 Justice. “Seventy-two hours we’re asking for peace for the city—and we’re gonna do it all night. We want to bring the resources to the community, not just during the day, we’re bringing resources to these communities all night, civil and criminal attorneys on hand to offer their services.”
Along with Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, 300 Gangstas, and others, Out 4 Justice is spending 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. at this spot before heading to the west side on night two of the ceasefire to offer the same resources, good food, and fun.
“When you’re stressed, the smallest thing can tick you off,” Hanson-Mundell says. “People are violent because they are stressed out—they’re stressed out about the fact that they don’t have housing, they’re not getting proper drug treatment, mental health treatment, they got criminal issues—they haven’t talked to their public defender in months, they don’t know what’s going to happen at their next court case.”
Just a couple hours in, she’s happy with how many people are getting help but says more will come when all of the reporters leave.
“We’re gonna get more participation when you funny faces leave because then folks are gonna feel comfortable,” she says with a smile.
Under a tent nearby, lawyers and public defenders help assist those who want their record expunged. A man sits with public defender Todd Oppenheim and another lawyer. The man, who Oppenheim has recommended not give his name—for understandable reasons—has a gun charge on his record from 20 years ago, he says.
“I want this off my record,” he demands.
“It’s a process,” Oppenheim patiently explains.
First of all, he can’t get an expungement if he’s on probation. He is, so he’s got to wait, but it would still help him to get in front of a judge again. The gun wasn’t even his, the man says. It belonged to someone who lived with him in the same house; he took the charge or couldn’t really fight it and now wishes he had fought harder.
This is all a way to deal with the intimidating and confusing elements of the system in a less scary environment—outside on a fairly cool summer Friday night, with hot dogs and burgers on the grill and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony blasting from some speakers.
Lauren Capel, of the mental health provider WIN Family Services, is one of the professionals offering up her time and expertise this evening. She has helped about 10 people over the past few hours, she says.
“Some people wanted information around housing, some people wanted direction in terms of mental health services,” she says. “I think this was a great effort just to try to get the community out to provide resources. Our communities need to know what’s out there.”
Once it’s dark, a screening of “13th,” Ava DuVernay’s staggering documentary about mass incarceration, is set to begin.
Activist PFK Boom, who is also part of Out 4 Justice as well as 300 Gangstas, a group formed out of the Bloods and Crips gang unification during the Baltimore Uprising, briefly introduces “13th” by, well, not introducing it because everybody here (except for us funny face reporters) already knows.
“Our life is ‘13th’,” he says on the microphone as others hang a sheet on a brick wall for the projection.
Bonez300, another member of 300 Gangstas and a reformed Blood, paces the perimeter of the party gripping a large Pan-African flag, a little boy following behind. The breeze picks up and blows a few paper plates out of the trash can and into the street. The Red-Black-Green unfurls triumphantly.
“Get that plate,” Bonez300 tells the boy and dips down to the ground himself to grab a stray water bottle and throw it back in the trash.
Brian Dolge, who along with Shorty has been screening “13th” in a number of places around the city—most famously on the side of the Baltimore City Detention Center back in June—fuels the generator and explains that he wants to start projecting the movie in locations of police killings: Near where Tyrone West was killed, where Anthony Anderson was killed, and so on.
“You know, to get some community going,” he says. (Brandon Soderberg)
On the wall of Station North club the Windup Space, at the far end of the Ynot Lot, are the words “No Shoot Zone” painted on the peeling wall, jagged concrete over brick.
“No Shoot Zone” is the work of rapper and community organizer Tyree Colion. Like the ceasefire, it is a grassroots effort to stop the violence in the city.
A year ago, not long after rapper Lor Scoota was shot on his way home from an anti-violence charity basketball game, a spontaneous open-air vigil on Pennsylvania Avenue soon morphed into a standoff as police approached the mourners in lines of riot gear.
Colion and Baltimore Police Lt. Jeff Shorter walked out into the no man’s land between the two lines, some on both sides pushing escalation—although it was clearly started by overzealous police.
The night ended in peace.
But on July 16 of this year, Colion was stabbed in the neck, the aftermath of which he broadcast on Facebook Live. He played the Windup Space, a venue whose outside wall he had already g iven a “No Shoot Zone” tag, only six days after the stabbing. Shortly after that, Colion, who did an extensive stint in prison for a murder conviction as a minor, was arrested for spraying painting “No Shoot Zone” on the wall by a 7-Eleven where a 13-year-old girl had been killed.
It’s hard not to think of all of this walking into the Windup Space on the first night of the ceasefire. It is not an official ceasefire event, but Lafayette Gilchrist’s 50th birthday feels suffused with the spirit of the weekend, as the black and white Baltimores come together to celebrate the jazz composer and pianist, called the “monk of funk” by his bandmate Gregory Thompkins.
Gilchrist recently released a jazz suite, “Blues For Freddie Gray,” recorded with his band the New Volcanoes and vocalist Brooks Long. These songs weren’t among the songs officially dedicated to the ceasefire, but they offered an inspiration of what is best in Baltimore.
“The Wire” auteur David Simon sits at the bar one seat down from former Black Panther and Real News reporter Eddie Conway. Between them sits Tiffany DeFoe, a collective member of Red Emma’s and a band member of the Volcanoes (disclosure: we were briefly in the same band). Jasmine Pope, of J Pope and the HearNow, moves through the crowd.
At her Artscape set last month, Pope chanted, “August 4th, August 4th, August 4th, August 4th,” urging people to get down with the ceasefire.
As Lafayette Gilchrist and friends start playing—bringing two young saxophonists on stage to play along—the New Volcanoes look like a symbol of something sorta resembling hope.
The music feels like the city, bouncing with a fury that is always on the edge of disaster but somehow manages to keep it together. (Baynard Woods)
Over on Mosher Street in West Baltimore around 9:30 p.m., gun shots echo out of a vacant on a street full of them. A whole bunch of police officers get suited up and move a battering ram toward the flimsy door of a leaning vacant.
A few knocks, shouts of “police,” no response, and they’re in. Quickly, one suspect comes out. He’s cuffed and moved down the street. The other person, a woman, refuses to come out—she’s on the top floor.
More police. One steps back, points a rifle at the third floor window, a flashlight shines on the window. They wait.
“Ain’t nobody died, right?” a resident asks as he turns the corner and sees a whirl of red and blue lights and a whole bunch of cops ready to go. Somebody says there hasn’t been a shooting and the man’s shoulders relax—people are rooting for the ceasefire. More cops flow into the vacant, the woman eventually comes out, and this tense moment is over.
Capt. John Webb of the Western District wanders over to explain the situation to a cluster of residents huddled across the street watching the action.
“You gotta let the community know what’s going on,” Webb says.
Webb mentions the ceasefire: “Anyway we can get help is good.”
He says he was just down the street at the corner of Pennsylvania and North avenues, where rapper and anti-violence organizer Tyree Colion placed a large “No Shoot Zone” banner.
Meanwhile, on the door of a vacant not far from the one that just got raided, a heartening tag in spraypaint: “FREE DA FELLAS.” (Brandon Soderberg)
The “13th” screening set for those at Out 4 Justice’s Belair-Edison outpost never got off the ground, unfortunately—someone knocked one of the speakers over. But the group may have prevented a shooting, PFK Boom says.
“Two brothers had a little incident in reference to a disagreement,” he says. “We talked to both of them, just resolved it. These are the things that every community with a few men could do—just to be there for that, it only takes a second.”
PFK says this sort of thing—community policing, pretty much—is a central tenet of 300 Gangstas, the group he co-founded, and is connected to the ceasefire. This is how Baltimore will change, he says, not with the help of the police.
“Police kill young black men,” he says. “We’re not gonna give them more young black men.”
He mentions the recent videos that show Baltimore Police seemingly planting evidence.
“That’s not new to me,” he says. “Y’all just have cameras now.”
He invokes the ever-expanding police budget and the ridiculous amounts of technology they get, none of which will work, either. When car alarms came out, people’s cars didn’t stop getting stolen, he says, “it just made them car jack you instead.” Surveillance planes, better computers, infrared cameras—none of it means shit.
PFK’s vision is a ceasefire that would last for months. He works with the Fruits of Islam, who are here tonight standing over as security for this party. An extended ceasefire could happen, he says, but that isn’t even what the city wants.
“There’s no money in peace,” he says. If a ceasefire worked, “Johns Hopkins ain’t gonna be in business.”
It is almost 2 a.m. PFK’s got three more hours here and then he moves this all over to the west side.
He needs some coffee, he admits, but he is not tired.
“If I go to sleep, somebody might die,” he says. (Brandon Soderberg)
Saturday, Aug. 5
Early Saturday morning at the labyrinth walking path located at the Weinberg Y in Waverly, a small group comprised mostly of women (there’s one man) chat outside the labyrinth, a twisting circular path made of alternating large and small square stone pavers. Soon, the talking stops and some members of the group began to walk their own paths on the labyrinth. They move as if in sync, making sure to stay out of each other’s way, pausing at intervals at times to face the sun. Eventually Erricka Bridgeford walks up, in a T-shirt and a flowing, colorful skirt.
Bridgeford is triumphant and terrified. So far, there have been no murders. She knew she’d be a jumble of emotions, though, and that’s why she added this specific event to the ceasefire calendar.
“To me, labyrinths have always been a very healing thing, I take my traumas and my joys, my questions, because it symbolizes going into the center of your being, getting what you need and coming out and then using that. I’ve always shifted in my journey and became a little bit more of everything I want to be after I left the labyrinth,” she says. “I knew I wanted to walk in the labyrinth during the ceasefire because I have a lot of anxiety about what is going to happen this weekend. I’m scared out here, like what is going to happen, for real for real. And so I knew I was going to need the labyrinth this weekend to help me get grounded and centered and so I went, ‘Oh, other people might want to do that.’”
Bridgeford and other organizers pay attention to the amount of time since the last murder. Once the 19-hour mark passes (based on a statistic someone heard that murders have been happening every 19 hours in Baltimore), they aim for 24 hours violence free.
“So somewhere around 8 or 8:30, I could feel it, I was just like we are going to make it to 12 o’clock. It’s going to be 24 hours and nobody is going to die,” she says. “T.J. Smith promised me that the minute he found out anything, because he’s the first person who finds out anything, he was going to tell me when he found out. I was like, ‘T.J., I don’t want to hear from your ass all weekend!’”
She has been bustling from event to event, trying to remember to rest and eat when she can, she says. There have been many moments to reflect, learn, and connect with other city residents. At a rally on Friday, she met an 11-year-old girl who had just lost a cousin who was more like a brother to her.
“She said ‘I just saw you on the news!’ with the prettiest smile you have ever seen in your life,” Bridgeford recalls, smiling. “I said to her, ‘You know why I’m happy you saw me on the news? Because you are a little black girl and I was a little black girl. This is what you are.’ I said, ‘Don’t ever let anybody tell you what you can’t be.’ I said, ‘You know how crazy people told me I was for trying to do this?’ People laughed at me while I was out doing outreach for three months. They were like, you’re stupid, you’re crazy. And I’m like, you might be right. I’ma keep trying, though.”
Bridgeford continues: “As a little black girl, there are going to be so many times in this life where people are going to tell you to dim your light and don’t be so much of everything that you are, and at times you’re going to want to believe that because you’re going to feel alone in all of your everything, and you need to just keep being it. I said, ‘Everybody can’t handle the light. Some people are just like that light is too bright. That’s not your fault that they can’t handle how bright your light is, don’t ever turn your light down.’”
By being one of the more visible faces of the ceasefire, Bridgeford opens herself up to lots of criticism and hate. On the flipside, she’s also cognizant of the fact that lots of people can draw strength from her example.
“I hit so many different demographics, I come from low-income housing in West Baltimore, so I rep my hood. So people in Zone 16 are like that’s us right there,’’ she says. “I was born with one hand, so all the handicapped people get to be like, yes! Team disabled! I’m black, we get to do that, I’m female, I get to rep that. I feel like my physical being encompasses so much. There’s so much that people can look to and find a piece of their own experience and go dag, if she can just think ‘Oh let’s just try to do this’ and say it to other people, what do I want to do? What do I want to impact? What injustice do I think needs to be healed? What small little thing can I say out loud to other people and see where it falls?” (Lisa Snowden-McCray)
At North Avenue and Monroe Street on Saturday morning, a relic from the recent past: a yellowed 300 Men March “We Must Stop Killing Each Other” sign stuck on the side of a vacant—surrounded by a whole bunch of fresh and clean Baltimore Ceasefire flyers.
At a Peace Walk through Sandtown-Winchester featuring MOMS (Mothers Of Murdered Sons/Daughters), the Baltimore metro chapters of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, The Episcopal Diocese, and more, which began at Frederick Douglass High School, a few people in this group of 200 take photos of the flyer. It’s from 2014 or 2015, evidence of a high-profile past attempt to curtail violence when it was bad but not as bad as it is now.
Nearly everything in Sandtown-Winchester nods to the distant and immediate past. This walk retraces some of the steps of the 1968 riots and marches and where many walked in solidarity with Freddie Gray and against police brutality during the Baltimore Uprising. At one point, the group passes by New Shiloh Baptist Church, the location of Freddie Gray’s funeral.
Marching down Monroe, the chant today is “1-2-3, ceasefire” instead of “All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray.” It’s peace signs mostly instead of fists up in the air, and the demographics are different too—mostly young children and the over-30 crowd. The 18-to-30-year-olds, the people mostly being murdered in Baltimore and the guiding force behind the uprising, are not too present.
“1-2-3, ceasefire,” again and again.
People pop their heads out to see what’s up and cheer it on, again, like they did during the uprising.
“Thank you! We need this!” one man says.
Capt. John Webb, who less than 12 hours ago was helping his officers invade a vacant to stop two shooters, is out here directing the march across North Avenue. He smiles, he’s energetic, but he looks tired.
“Eh, I got a couple hours of sleep last night,” he says in his chipper Baltimore accent.
The Peace Walk stops at the sites of murders in this area to say the victims’ names and pray: Ernest Solomon, 26 years old; Donta Culp, 38 years old; Maryus Smith Jr., 31 years old; Brandon Anderson, 21 years old; Davonte Jackson, 24 years old; George Thompson, 43 years old; and Troy Horton Jr., 30 years old.
Among the marchers are Andre, who was shot in the leg in the same shooting that killed George Thompson, and Sharon Akins, whose son, Dontia Akins, was shot and killed on Jan. 27 of this year on Washington Boulevard.
“I’m doing this for my son,” she says.
This Peace Walk also recalls a Stop the Killing ride/walk organized in part by MOMS last summer. There, a caravan of police cars, hearses, and residents all drove the entire length of North Avenue stopping frequently for moments of prayer and chants against street violence, with the help of some community-oriented Baltimore Police, including Lt. Jeff Shorter.
Shorter couldn’t make it out to this march because he’s out of the country, on vacation.
“I think the ceasefire is a representation of what Baltimore was and can be. Baltimore is comprised of neighborhoods with a stark history. The police department can no longer rely on failed tactics to make Baltimore safe,” Shorter says over the phone in support of the ceasefire. “There must be a collective effort to resolve our community issues.” (Brandon Soderberg, additional reporting by J.M. Giordano)
The People’s BBQ for the Homeless, an annual event that feeds the homeless at St. Vincent de Paul Church, is not part of Baltimore Ceasefire officially, but some of the volunteers handing out food and offering help sport ceasefire T-shirts and Duane “Shorty” Davis, who is cooking for seemingly every event related to the ceasefire or not this weekend, is here too.
“It ain’t a BBQ without me,” Shorty says, proudly, moments after posing for photos with Mayor Catherine Pugh, who walked across President Street from her own Rally For School Supplies to meet and greet.
“She didn’t bring security, I respect that,” Shorty observes. “SRB wouldn’t do that.”
He wishes the mayor would swing by for more than a photo, though, and really engage with what he and others do out here.
“The city should hire me,” Shorty says. He could be doing this for the homeless every day if the city would let him, he says, if they gave him the resources.
Pugh poses for more photos and gives a few hugs.
“She just as well could’ve brought a cardboard cut-out,” a man at the People’s BBQ declares to no one and everyone. “Does she even show up in pictures?”
Nearby, Michael Brisco grips a coke can like he’s protecting it and praises Shorty’s work.
“He’s a good kid,” says Brisco, who is younger than Shorty.
“I’m from this park, I spent 126 days in this park,” Brisco says.
He came up here after he lost his house and more than a dozen friends and family during Hurricane Katrina: “Hardest thing I ever did in my life, man, being homeless. You don’t know if it’s gonna rain, then you don’t know what kind of day you gonna have, what kind of obstacles; they might tell you to get out of this park, carrying a five-pound bag at the end of the day, it feels 60 pounds.”
Brisco’s no longer homeless, though, and he’s working his way through some mental health issues. He also has a daughter now.
“The love of my life, man, the love of my life,” he says and then he turns back to this park. “To come back to a place like this, reminds me of where I came from.”
He has not heard of Baltimore Ceasefire, but appreciates that it’s happening.
“Oh, that sounds good,” he says. (Brandon Soderberg)
Like it’s no big deal, two men pass right under yellow police tape marking off a Saturday evening shooting on Sargeant and Carey streets, and try and get to their house.
A detective rushes over and moves them out of the crime scene.
“Don’t you see the tape?” the detective asks, annoyed.
“Fuck your sign, man,” one of the men says and then turns around an alley in an attempt to get into his house that way. He is stopped again.
“Go around, sir,” a cop tells him. “Where do you live? If you live right here, go right in.”
The man keeps yelling and a cop gets into it with him.
“Say it as you’re walking away, tough guy,” the cop says. A superior tells the cop to cut it out.
“Bitch!” the man yells.
Next door, someone screams at gathering reporters not to take his picture.
The news is here, all of the news, and the crime scene grows—another car with a bullet hole in it not far away. The situation is tense and now that it seems as though we have a homicide on our hands, rhetoric about the ceasefire being “a failure” spreads. It was good while it lasted. Like everything in Baltimore.
That’s wrong, of course. Erricka Bridgeford never said the ceasefire’s only goal was to stop the murders, and the fact that so many people are paying such close attention to this shooting means the ceasefire worked: It made a shooting really matter.
Police soon officially announce this as a homicide, the first of the ceasefire: Lamontrey Tynes, a 24-year-old male, shot, dead not long after he got to Shock Trauma. (Brandon Soderberg)
Duane “Shorty” Davis, on his third cooking gig of the weekend, cranks out as many burgers, sausages, and ribs as possible. This is the second day of Out 4 Justice’s sleepover, this time far, far west, out in Irvington, on Collins and Frederick avenues.
“A 72-hour ceasefire and you still managed to kill a person, you still managed to take a life, someone’s child, someone’s loved one,” says Teresa Davis, a filmmaker and organizer. “How can you take a person’s life? We asked you not to, we commanded you. It sickens me. I was disappointed, I was hurt, but it could’ve been 10 and it doesn’t cheapen what we do.”
Davis and a few others from her team, including Leonard Coleman and Nakeela Taylor, were in Park Heights when the homicide happened, leading a small ceasefire march in the streets.
“We chose that area because there are a lot of desperate and hurting people there,” Davis says. “We were marching, we had the motorcycles in front of us to kind of like barricade the way and a little boy, I asked him if he wanted peace, if he wanted justice, and he asked me was I there to find the killer? He’s 5 years old. It made me cry. He thought I was an investigator.”
“That was surreal,” says Coleman who works on film documentaries with Davis, including an upcoming documentary on Percocet. “A young 5-year-old asking are you here to find the killer of my friend, that hits you, takes you to a place.”
“And I don’t have the answer,” Davis says.
They also chose to march in Park Heights because Taylor was close to a homicide victim over there.
“My godbrother’s brother was killed on that street in 2011—at Park Heights and Woodland,” she says.
Taylor also says that a police detective approached them during their march and mocked the effort.
“He said, ‘About your Baltimore Ceasefire, somebody already got shot,’” she says. “It’s not about the police, but as them being police officers, for you to say that, you were looking for this event to flop. If the Nation of Islam hadn’t come to the events I think we would have been harassed.”
Gary Johnson, a program director for the Boys and Girls Club of Metropolitan Baltimore, sits back and watches the scene.
“My first thoughts were that [the ceasefire] was really great. It was a good idea. I was hoping it would be successful,” Johnson says.
Johnson was shot at the age of 27, which moved his life away from hustling. He also notes that he has “been experiencing murder pretty much nonstop since [he] was 12.”
Like so many linked in with the goals of the ceasefire, the homicide that happened earlier in the day sits with him, but it is a setback—not something that renders the ceasefire meaningless.
“People are saying it’s unrealistic because some people don’t care, but I would say it’s successful,” he says. “Even though violence may still have occurred, people are still becoming more aware. There’s this saying I heard: ‘You can’t just put an elephant on a plate and eat it, you have to eat it with a spoon.’ Take off chunks that you can manage.”
Around him is quite a party. A father and son play cornhole wearing superhero capes—father in a Wonder Woman cape, son in Batman. PFK Boom stands triumphantly on the bed of the truck, fist up for photos. Nearby, mental health professionals talk to Irvington residents in need and help others with expungement.
And a few feet from Johnson, an older couple damn near dirty dance to grimy house music.
Baltimore, forever dancing its pain away. (Brandon Soderberg, additional reporting by Rayanne Weigel)
Less than two hours after the first homicide of Baltimore Ceasefire, Erricka Bridgeford and others—including a few familar faces, such as Adam Jackson of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, who left the Irvington block party to join—have come to the spot to pray, stand in a circle, holding hands. Bridgeford speaks and, typically, does not say exactly what you’d expect.
She addresses the shooter and those angry at the shooter: “Whoever pulled the trigger . . . they were not born with a gun in their hand, their mother didn’t push them out and say, ‘I can’t wait until my baby grows up and shoots somebody on the ceasefire weekend.’ This is not what we deserve. We are not going to other anybody in this situation. You got some feelings about the person who did this? Heal that shit right now. Heal it. Go deep within yourself and find out what about you reflects them.”
After the prayer, Bridgeford sits down, a candle next to her, and cries, then closes her eyes and meditates.
This homicide is not only a loss but a very public failing—supposedly. No matter that Bridgeford herself knew it very well may not be possible to stop every homicide, the story goes around that the ceasefire is a “failure.” WJZ tweeted out, “Police say a man has been fatally shot in SW Baltimore, despite calls for #CeaseFire in the city.”
“We lost one, but we gained so many people,” says Val Jenkins, who is wearing and has been passing around “Hug! Don’t Shoot” shirts, referencing a woman she met that drove in from Essex to support the ceasefire and a semi-productive chat with a dealer.
“I was at a very rough area today and the guys were over there,” she says. “They’re selling the drugs right in front of us and I walked over to the guy who looked like he was in charge and I said, ‘How you doing, can I have a hug?’ And he looked at me and I said, ‘Get your ass up and give me a hug.’ So he got up and gave me a hug. And I said, ‘I’m not here to stop your business but we need you to respect us. He got up and he walked his whole corner, which was like 25 people, and they walked over. They ain’t stop, because I’m not here to stop the business, he said, ‘Y’all here to stop the shootings you’re not here to stop the drugs,’ but guess what? We’ve got to stop somewhere.”
As the crowd disperses, Bridgeford to another event, some including Adam Jackson back over to Irvington, a man calls out, “That dude died, didn’t he?”
I confirm he did.
Every shooting hits harder this weekend. (Brandon Soderberg)
At Baker Street and Gertrude Court around 10 p.m on Saturday, a bloody cloth or a white T-shirt, maybe, lies on the ground. Somber cops and furrowed detectives step around it. The blue Citiwatch light flickers on one end of Baker and red and blue cop lights on the other.
It is eerily quiet—like someone put Baker Street on mute. No music, no cars except in the distance, no fun. Quietly, a frog-voiced man looks out his front door at the police tape and grumbles something about the ceasefire from his porch.
“Is he dead?” a 50-year-old man from the neighborhood who didn’t want to give his name asks. He’s asking but he isn’t asking because he knows. He says what everybody says, that this neighborhood has changed, and he does his best to explain why.
“A lot of older people that went to prison that shouldn’t have went and kids wasn’t being taught,” he says. “Even in drugs there’s rules, there’s no rules anymore: Kids aren’t allowed to sell drugs. That was a thing that was never tolerated. This don’t make no sense. It’s sad. This really makes no sense at all. Kids are buck wild. People really don’t have value for human life. It’s sad. It’s fuckin’ sad.”
He walks away. A few minutes later, a mother and daughter inch toward the crime scene.
“That’s his car,” the mom tells her daughter. “I wanna know if he’s alive.”
Her daughter pulls her back inside—there is nothing they can do.
An hour or so after the shooting, the police confirm the second homicide of ceasefire. Donte Johnson, a 37-year-old man, dead soon after he got to Shock Trauma. (Brandon Soderberg)
IT’S 2 A.M. and Duane “Shorty” Davis is asleep in his truck, but people are still getting fed. There’s a surplus of sausages and burgers and Irvington residents keep coming back for more. A playlist of mostly new Jay-Z and some old Kanye West and Nas plays at noise ordinance-violating levels, but nobody minds. The Fruits Of Islam stand guard—a few of them sit and shoot the shit with PFK Boom. Activist and organizer Abdul Salaam plays cornhole with some friends. Some of the Out 4 Justice crew play cards. A few sleep, bundled up in blankets.
The sleepy energy is interrupted by Out 4 Justice’s Nicole Hanson-Mundell, who excitedly runs over and declares, “We serviced over 100 people today!”
Jason Rodriguez, of the Irvington Merchant Association, manager of the nearby MetroPCS, and a co-founder of Baltimore Copwatch, sees the future of his West Baltimore neighborhood in this event. He wants to improve the area and wants people to come out and hang together.
“Let’s make it look more like a Main Street, clean it up, make it look nice and uniform,” he says. “So this corridor has some life. All of this will be cleaned up.”
He enthusiastically outlines his development plan, which is focused on “improving quality of life for seniors, children, the patrons,” in that order, with special attention to the legacy merchants, he says.
“Mr. Taylor’s been a grocer here for 43 years, we want to keep folks like him here.”
In other words, precisely the opposite of the way most of Baltimore is being redeveloped right now.
“Events like this,” Rodriguez says. “They make me optimistic.”
PFK Boom and Bonez, arms crossed, nod their heads to Nas’ ‘Hate Me Now.’ (Brandon Soderberg)
Sunday, Aug. 6
The ushers at the Kingdom Life Church at 125 N. Hilton St. escort all of the ceasefire people, volunteers and reporters alike, into the first and second pews, 20 feet from the old school auditorium stage that serves as the chancel, which is now filled with strong singers, plus a keyboardist and drummer, all dressed in white.
“I was out until 4 o’clock this morning,” Ellen Gee, dressed in a black ceasefire T-shirt, tells one of the congregants behind her. The congregants are also all in white in service of a “Whiteout Communion.”
“Oh, I’m tired,” Gee says.
It is 10 a.m. Sunday. Pastor Michael Phillips, a graduate of Oral Roberts University and a force here in this church and the neighborhoods beyond, is waiting in the wings as his ushers shake hands and hug new arrivals and old friends. The choir belts out a hymn, ‘What a Mighty God We Serve,’ and flat screens at the stage’s edge scroll the lyrics so the congregants can sing along.
Phillips announces an Aug. 8 “ministry of presence” starting at 7:30 p.m. “to let our brothers know that we see them and we want to connect with them.”
On Aug. 26, the church will hold a job fair and give away 1,000 full backpacks to school kids, 100,000 pounds of groceries, and free haircuts. There are 400 volunteers already signed up to work “Live in Hope Day,” but Phillips is asking for a few more.
“Pray that all of us can reflect on the sense of urgency in our city at this moment,” he says.
Erricka Bridgeford is invited to the pulpit.
The two murders last night hurt the whole city, but this pain was necessary, Bridgeford says. Numbness to the violence that befalls others is spiritual death, and the ceasefire movement is “about making everyone feel like they lost their loved ones.”
Bridgeford says the movement is successful: It got the word out.
“There were over 40 events planned this weekend,” she says. “We asked for 72 hours, and there wasn’t a murder until we reached hour 41.”
In Baltimore, every hour without a shooting is a good hour; every day without a murder is a good day. But murders follow no schedule. There were three last weekend, four the weekend before, only two on the weekend of July 14—both of those on Friday. The city has averaged 2.6 murders each weekend since July, just a tick above the 2.55 average recorded in 2016. It was worse in 2015, averaging 3.1 killings each weekend during that July and August. But that’s mainly because eight people were murdered from July 10 through July 12, 2015. Even so, Baltimore did not record its 209th 2015 murder until Aug. 18 of that year, 13 days later than this year.
So Bridgeford’s project is less about cold numbers than about facing a society steeped in violence with a message of love. She says she met a young man “who was out here doing wrong. He wanted a poster so he could hang it on his wall and look at it when he’s going to sleep.”
“I was born with one hand,” she says. “I understand something about looking broken—and being whole.”
She urges the congregation to continue the work.
“That beautiful feeling we created,” she says.“Was I crazy, or did the air feel different? If this effort has connected you with others involved in this work, then you are a voice for this movement.” (Edward Ericson Jr.)
Mayor Catherine Pugh and State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby arrive at the Shot Tower at about the same time on Sunday afternoon, both looking like they have come from church, for the Baltimore Ceasefire Peace Walk and Vigil.
It’s an awkward position for the politicians. If they show up, they may seem like they are trying to hijack the citizen-led initiative. If they don’t, they seem callous and unconcerned. The obligation to be here is almost like a funeral. There is nothing adequate you can do when someone dies, but you must do something nevertheless.
Everyone is aware that there were two homicides last night. It is like a question hanging in the air.
“Often times I think we’ve lost our sense of community and at the end of the day, this is not going to stop as a result of policing or prosecution,” Mosby says. “It is when the community stands up and says ‘enough is enough’ and the fact that we, that they, were able to do that to step up in the community and say this is unacceptable and for more than 41 hours nothing happened.”
A European journalist with a TV camera approaches and says that in Europe the word “ceasefire” is usually used in war zones. “People get shocked that in the city that just regular citizens called a ceasefire,” he says. “What do you have to say about that? It sounds like a war zone.”
“What I can say about that is what this shows is not a war zone,” Mosby replies. “When you have numbers like 344 homicides, 314 homicides more than 206, now 207, young people have been shot in the streets of Baltimore. This is not a third world country, this is our city. We as a community are stepping forward and we are saying this is not acceptable and we do need to ceasefire. This is not acceptable any longer. And what you saw this weekend was indicative of the beauty and the resilience. The beauty of Baltimore City is not just what is depicted on the news.”
But this moment is going to be on the news—the question filled with all of the negative images of the city that politicians hate. The answer plays to those assumptions and adds another layer of international stereotyping with a reference to “third world” countries.
“So you will say 41 hours without a shooting is an achievement for Baltimore?” the reporter asks, the condescension in the question evident.
“It’s an achievement not because there were no shootings or no killings, but because we came together as a community and stood up,” Mosby replies.
Mayor Pugh has been talking to Eze Jackson of the Real News Network most of this time, but now she is standing, holding a Baltimore Ceasefire sign, her back to the Shot Tower.
I ask her what she makes of this citizen-led effort to stop the violence.
“I think back in December I called on people to come together because the city can’t solve this problem by itself,” she says. “It’s a call for action. The city needs to get engaged. I asked for 30 people to come to City Hall and talk to us about how we solve crime in our city. It turned out to be 90 people, then a 120, then when I did a call to action over at Baltimore City Community College, all I did is pray that night that people would show up and it was standing room only, 300 or 400 people saying we will work on solving this problem together.”
The mayor still has not really mentioned the Baltimore Ceasefire event. She continues on for nearly a minute, in a defensive tone that is strangely familiar: “As you well know, when I walked into City Hall people kept screaming for a consent decree—a consent decree that wasn’t even done—that I did in 60 days what most cities, New Orleans, took 14 months to do and Ferguson, with 50 police officers, took 13 months to do. We did it in 60 days because it’s important for us to build that trust in our neighborhoods and our communities. And what this is saying is that we are taking responsibility to help us understand the value of life in this city.”
Finally, Pugh gets to the event at hand.
“They said line up. I’m just following the line,” she says. “They are leading us and it would be unfair for me to go stand in front of the leaders who are doing this. I am following them. I following them because of their action. For me this isn’t about being a politician, this is about being concerned.”
“You’re here as a citizen?” I ask.
“I’m here as a citizen supporting the leadership of this effort and will support other efforts in this manner,” she says. “Every other week I meet with groups centered to this in City Hall to help me facilitate the movement forward of the city. We’ve engaged mediation groups from across the city. We’ve put 8,600 young people to work this summer, more than any other mayor ever in the city. We’ve taken some of the squeegee kids off of the corners and created a couple car washes.”
And she is back to her own efforts. It goes on a couple more minutes, until just before the march begins.
Instead of stopping at City Hall, as many people expected, the group kept moving and ended up on the street in front of the Real News Network, where the marquee above the door reads “Baltimore Ceasefire.” Everyone makes their way inside.
“Hi, everybody. Thank you so much for owning the Baltimore Ceasefire and making it something that the world is watching,” Erricka Bridgeford says from the small stage in the large, windowless Real News studio room, black curtains hanging on the walls, her co-organizers standing behind her with a banner.
After an opening ceremony and libations, a succession of people walk up and take the mic to read the names of the 209 people who have been murdered so far in Baltimore this year. A few of the readers pronounce the name of someone they loved, holding back tears.
Mosby, standing against a wall to the side, looks up from her phone, visibly moved as two women in white hug, weeping in front of her.
This emotional sense, this willingness to let the death in, to recognize it, is moving through the room. Ogun, one of the organizers, says the night the ceasefire started he laid down just before midnight, thinking, “It’s 12 o’clock, I hope no one gets shot tonight,” he says. “When’s the last time you really thought that way? I wake up, watch the news. ‘Oh, somebody got shot.’ Eat my cereal. I couldn’t go to sleep last night. I usually go to sleep numb. I’m feeling y’all’s energy, I’m feeling y’all’s disappointment that somebody had the audacity to shoot somebody on ceasefire weekend. He gotta live with that. That ain’t cool to lay with at night if it was me that did that,” Ogun continues. “We have shifted the energy of the city and we’re going to continue to do so or we’re going to go back and be numb.”
It takes more than 14 minutes to get through 207 names. It’s as if the ritual of reading, like the entire weekend, is an attempt to wake ourselves from the numbness Ogun’s talking about. Mosby has slipped out. Pugh stands in the back with her sign.
Then Bridgeford takes the mic again.
“We’re gonna say the last two names all together,” she says. “The first name is Trey. The second name is Donte, also known as EA,” she says.
Bridgeford’s voice rises on the second syllable of EA, pronounced just like the names of the two letters together—a long E, long A . . .
“Ain’t that the perfect way to end Baltimore Ceasefire with EA?” she says. “We need EA to ring through this room. If you know anything about Baltimore you need EA to ring through this room. You need to say his name like you mean it.”
“Trey, Donte also known as EA,” the crowd says with Bridgeford.
The drums that have kept a steady two-pulse heartbeat between the names of the deceased now roll with a moment of abandon. “EA, EA,” people in crowd chant, followed by “woo!”
The name of the last person slain in Baltimore, the second killed during the 72-hour ceasefire, goes by the same name as a classic Baltimore Club song by Miss Tony, ‘EA EA,’ a celebration of Edmondson Avenue.
“EA, EA—woo!” they chant again, call-and-response style, and Baltimore somehow does what it has always done.
It transcends the pain in a brief flash of joy.
“EA, EA—woo!” (Baynard Woods)
At the final event of ceasefire, a sort of sad epilogue at March Funeral Home on the east side: Baltimore police officers use a Taser on a man who they say was having a “behavioral crisis” and “threatening to hurt himself.”
One bystander says the man ran at the police and the stage, talking about “suicide by cop.”
“Officers attempt to take him into custody for emergency petition, he doesn’t cooperate,” Detective Nicole Monroe writes in a police statement. “They Taser him. He still gets away.”
“Cops wouldn’t let the man be, even when he sat down and was quiet,” Benjamin Jancewicz, an activist and community organizer, writes in an email. “Shot a Taser at him at one point, it had no effect.”
In a video of the scene taken by The Sun’s Carrie Wells, the sky is glowing and bulbous, hanging low, the end of a long summer weekend, and a song is playing like the end of a movie and then there is a pop and the man staggers and spins three times, running shirtless across the parking lot and coming down on his knee. Then he gets up and starts to walk almost casually.
After that, a number of activists tried to get between the man and the police. Many yell “ceasefire” over and over in an attempt to de-escalate. A police officer shoves a man in a “Hugs don’t shoot” T-shirt.
One attendee “physically laid over the man like a shield, protecting him from the officers,” Jancewicz continues. “The cops arrested him and the man. They dragged the man to the sidewalk, led [him] to the sidewalk, and then formed a line so we couldn’t get by.”
According to police, who did not release the attendee’s name, he was brought into custody where “he calms down, apologizes and he was released without charges.”
Jancewicz says that when they tried to talk with the officers, a lieutenant said, “If I had more officers I would have arrested more of you,” and refused to talk to the women who organized the ceasefire, speaking only to Ogun, one of the male organizers.
“The celebration became dark and depressing, and people dispersed,” Jancewicz says.
Officers were out of line, 300 Gangstas’ Bonez300 says: “The pigs reacted to something they shouldn’t have.”
On Monday Aug. 7, the day after the ceasefire, an initial meeting was held at the Community Mediation Center for an initiative called CeaseFire 365. “Now that we’ve gotten through the #BaltimoreCeaseFire Inaugural Weekend, what now? What’s next? Where do you start?” the Facebook event reads.
The press was asked not to come and report but concerned Baltimoreans who showed up told us there was a packed house. (Baynard Woods)