Baltimore cease-fire brings glimmer of hope
City could see 400 homicides this year, a per capita record
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.
“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
Women walk past a sign with a message to end gun violence in Baltimore on Wednesday.