Community Mediation: Organizer Erricka Bridgeford talks Baltimore Ceasefire

Erricka Bridgeford, one of the organizers of Baltimore Ceasefire, a loose, grassroots campaign against gun violence with the slogan "Nobody kill anybody," admits that people could still lose their lives during the event's Aug. 4-6 run.

"We know that there are so many systematic reasons that people get killed, that this thing might not make people actually not do it," she says, resting on a couch inside the Community Mediation Program office on Greenmount Avenue.

But the initiative, which encourages community and might stave off the violence that has so far taken 200 lives this year, has already made an "impact."

"When I say 'impact,' that doesn't mean that nobody will actually get killed in Baltimore that weekend," she says. "It's only been three months of campaigning, so a lot of people in Baltimore might not even hear about it in time and people are still impacted by those systematic things, so murder might still happen that weekend."

But, she continues, "it's already successful when it's already making connections. And it is already shifting something about the conversation and the culture around how we look at violence in Baltimore."

The ceasefire, also known as the Baltimore Peace Challenge, is a collection of events all over the city that allow residents and communities to take the idea and run with it. That means that there will be a variety of activities, including a sip-and-paint, a peace walk, and an all-night camp out.

"It's purposeful that there's not a logo on any fliers," she says. "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 says the reason Baltimore Ceasefire is starting to generate buzz has very little to do with the organizers and everything to do with the people of Baltimore.

"We sent out the press release in May to every news platform that we knew about and contacts that we could find. Media did not start contacting us until last week. But it's because Baltimore residents have owned it and so you just hear about it and see it popping up in different places more than once," she says. "And so I guess it caught enough people's attention to go, 'Wait a minute, is this a thing in Baltimore?' And then what we loved is it wasn't really easy at first to find who the organizers were. We didn't want people to go, 'Oh, it's this person and that's why we should support it.' No. You shouldn't support it because a particular person is doing it. You should support it because murder is happening in Baltimore and it's something that we want to do something about, and if we do it together it's more likely that it will have an impact."

Bridgeford is the Director of Training for Community Mediation Maryland, a nonprofit that helps people resolve conflicts peacefully. She's also witnessed the violence in this city up close: At the age of 12, she saw a neighbor shot, and later lost her own brother to a shooting.

Bridgeford is not ignorant of the fact that the root causes of Baltimore's violence go deep. Her rhetoric is nuanced and skeptical of the "black-on-black violence" myth.

"People are not born with guns in their hands. And that's what I like about the ceasefire effort is that so many conversations—we have them all the time but now they're public, community-wide conversations about, 'Wait a minute, there must be a very successful network that keeps illegal guns flooding the streets, and there must be reasons why people become murderers,'" she says. "This language of victim and offender is very fluid. In real life it's difficult to find an offender who was not first a victim of a lot of stuff in their lives."

She says crime doesn't come out of thin air, either. There are plenty of well-known factors that take away people's options, and lead to a community marked by poverty and despair.

"If you just look at the things that people have gone through," she says, "there are indicators about how many times you have been abused, how much trauma you've seen in your life, how much drug addiction and domestic violence and poverty and not having access to healthy food—just there not being a supermarket near you that you can go to that's affordable where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables, the market doesn't smell like fish the minute you walk through the door, all of these quality of life things that you were born into. You had no control over what that was going to be for you. Those markers indicate the kind of situations you are more likely to end up in later on in life."

If there are murders the weekend of the ceasefire, money collected by Bridgeford and others via PayPal will go to the family or families of anyone murdered during the 72-hour period. If no one is killed, the money will go to the family of the first victim after the event is over.

"It's already been a successful effort," she says. "Just because so many people are having conversations about their choices when they're angry, about how they react to their conflicts, about community building with people to go, well, what are the root causes of violence and what can we be doing and what resources do people need?"

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