Bal­ti­more cease-fire brings glim­mer of hope

City could see 400 homi­cides this year, a per capita record

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

BAL­TI­MORE, Maryland — Er­ricka Bridgeford points out the in­ter­sec­tion where her cousin was shot dead in 2015, an all-too-fa­mil­iar tragedy in gang-wracked Bal­ti­more, one of the most vi­o­lent cities in the United States.

Last week­end, she helped or­ga­nize a cease-fire that was meant to last three days, but ended 41 hours later.

The ini­tia­tive’s slo­gan, seen on plac­ards across the eastern port city was sim­ple: “No­body kill any­body for 72 hours.”

That pe­riod be­gan on Fri­day and was to end on Sun­day, but on Satur­day, a 24-year-old man was fa­tally shot fol­lowed by an­other killing a few hours later.

De­spite the mur­ders, ac­tivists were up­beat.

“Forty-one hours of peace is a huge deal in a city that loses peo­ple every 19 hours,” said Er­ricka, a 44-year-old black woman who grew up on these streets, best known to the out­side world through the TV show The Wire.

Some months, the num­ber of mur­ders ex­ceeds the num­ber of days. And the vic­tims are mainly black, killed by other blacks.

As a re­sult, a young black man in Bal­ti­more faces as great a risk to his life as a US sol­dier at the height of the war in Iraq.

The city could see as many as 400 homi­cides this year, a per capita record for the coun­try, pro­por­tion­ally far worse than even no­to­ri­ously mur­der-rav­aged cities like Chicago.

At the age of 12, Er­ricka saw a young boy from her neigh­bor­hood bleed to death af­ter be­ing struck by a bul­let. In high school, she lost “at least two or three friends”.

Two of her three broth­ers have been shot. The first, in 2001, mirac­u­lously sur­vived, while the other died in 2007. Firearms also claimed the lives of two of her cousins and her step­son.

Endless funer­als

“I go to about three or four funer­als a year,” she said.

But she is con­vinced the week­end cease-fire, which she had been pre­par­ing for two months, saved at least two lives.

More im­por­tantly, she said, it helped the city ex­pe­ri­ence what day-to-day life could be like. “There is a dif­fer­ent en­ergy that we cre­ated to­gether,” she said.

A lot of en­ergy will be needed to erad­i­cate the roots of the vi­o­lence: Ex­treme poverty, an opi­oid epi­demic, the wide­spread avail­abil­ity of firearms, gang vi­o­lence and a never end­ing cy­cle of re­venge killings.

In some neigh­bor­hoods of east Bal­ti­more, boarded-up houses can be bought for $7,000 while some of the work­ing pop­u­la­tion make as lit­tle as $15,000 a year, said Gard­nel Carter, the lo­cal di­rec­tor of Safe Streets, an anti-vi­o­lence or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Young peo­ple in search of an es­cape see their only out­lets in video games and drugs, he said.

Heroin has given way to syn­thetic painkillers, nor­mally sold on pre­scrip­tion.

“You got young and younger peo­ple hooked on them. They walk around like zom­bies, on top of the men­tal health is­sues they are deal­ing with,” said Carter, who him­self was im­pris­oned for 20 years for mur­der.

Ja­mal, a 28-year-old with a beard and sun­glasses, sat idly on a street where busi­nesses are run mainly by His­pan­ics or Asians.

Drug-deals are hap­pen­ing ev­ery­where, he said, point­ing out a man whose bulging clothes give away the firearm he has con­cealed on his per­son.

“I am not go­ing to call the po­lice on that man be­cause it will put me in a sit­u­a­tion where my life would now be in jeop­ardy,” he said.

Con­fi­dence in the po­lice was mas­sively un­der­mined by the case of Fred­die Gray, a 25-yearold black man who sus­tained a fa­tal neck in­jury while be­ing trans­ported in a po­lice van in 2015, an in­ci­dent that det­o­nated ri­ots in the city.

More re­cently, po­lice have been caught on their body cam­eras al­legedly plant­ing drugs on sus­pects.

Forty-one hours of peace is a huge deal in a city that loses peo­ple every 19 hours.”

Er­ricka Bridgeford, Bal­ti­more res­i­dent

MAN­DEL NGAN / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Women walk past a sign with a mes­sage to end gun vi­o­lence in Bal­ti­more on Wed­nes­day.

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