Cease-fire pro­posed for Bal­ti­more

Res­i­dents hope to si­lence guns 72 hours as homi­cides top 200

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - JULIET LINDERMAN

Er­ricka Bridge­ford, a pro­fes­sional con­flict me­di­a­tor in Bal­ti­more, is one of the or­ga­niz­ers of the cease-fire, whose motto is “No­body Kill Any­body.”

BAL­TI­MORE — The num­ber of homi­cides in Bal­ti­more sur­passed 200, mak­ing 2017 a record-set­ting year for vi­o­lence on the city’s streets.

As the body count rises, the Po­lice Depart­ment has re­as­signed 150 of­fi­cers to the city’s most dan­ger­ous ar­eas but is still strug­gling to curb the blood­shed amid in­ter­nal tur­moil and mount­ing crit­i­cism. Mayor Cather­ine Pugh said she’s de­vel­oped a plan to stop the vi­o­lence, but hasn’t yet made it pub­lic.

In the mean­time, Bal­ti­more res­i­dents are tak­ing mat­ters into their own hands, propos­ing a 72-hour cease-fire that would go into ef­fect Fri­day and last at least through Sun­day.

Er­ricka Bridge­ford, a pro­fes­sional con­flict me­di­a­tor in Bal­ti­more, is one of the or­ga­niz­ers of the cease-fire, whose motto is “No­body Kill Any­body.”

No in­di­vid­ual or or­ga­ni­za­tion alone has taken credit for the event, Bridge­ford said, and that’s in­ten­tional. That way, it be­longs to ev­ery sin­gle Bal­ti­more res­i­dent, she said.

The idea is to per­suade shoot­ers to put down their guns for three whole days and re­mem­ber what it feels like to make a pos­i­tive de­ci­sion for them­selves and for their city.

“We un­der­stand that this is not what nor­mal should be, and we de­serve some­thing bet­ter,” Bridge­ford said. “Look­ing at each other and say­ing, ‘We de­serve peace for three whole days’ — that’s pow­er­ful.”

Bridge­ford is no stranger to the ef­fect of vi­o­lence on com­mu­ni­ties. She first saw some­one shot and killed when she was 12 years old.

“I heard shots that woke me up out of my sleep [when] my friend Mike was shot. I saw him on the black­top, I heard him cry­ing not to let him die,” she said. “I went to fu­ner­als all through high school.”

She said she’s lost friends and cousins to gun­shots, she said — “so many cousins.”

As James Evans, a Bal­ti­more-based ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive, watched the body count in Bal­ti­more sky­rocket ear­lier this year, he thought he might be able to help.

Evans’ firm, Il­lume, is be­hind the “Stop Shoot­ing, Start Liv­ing” slo­gan used by a lo­cal chap­ter of the com­mu­nity-based, anti-vi­o­lence or­ga­ni­za­tion Safe Streets. Now he’s try­ing to com­bat the blood­shed with an ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign tar­get­ing peo­ple most likely to pick up a gun and pull the trig­ger.

As he does with any cam­paign, Evans said, he treats his anti-vi­o­lence pitch like a prod­uct he’s sell­ing. He said he’s con­ducted fo­cus groups with vic­tims, ac­tive shoot­ers and drug deal­ers to try to fig­ure out how best to mar­ket the mes­sage. In one video, a fight breaks out and a man opens fire on a group, only to have his in­fant daugh­ter caught in the cross­fire.

“Hu­man­iz­ing the vic­tims is re­ally im­por­tant,” Evans said. “Peo­ple talk about Bal­ti­more city and crime, and they talk about it in the voice of fear, not the voice of em­pa­thy. The voice of fear sug­gests that crime just ex­ists here, not that vic­tims ex­ist here.

“We’re in­cen­tiviz­ing kids not to be­come crim­i­nals in the first place. You could go from be­ing a hard­work­ing cit­i­zen, lose your tem­per, do the wrong thing and be­come a crim­i­nal in five sec­onds. When you’re 18, you’re liv­ing in an un­der­served com­mu­nity, you’re fright­ened all the time. Peo­ple don’t un­der­stand how quickly th­ese kids need to re­act. That is what we’re try­ing to do: em­pathize with th­ese young guys, and say, ‘We un­der­stand that your sit­u­a­tion is chal­leng­ing; don’t make it more so.’”

An­other anti-vi­o­lence ac­tivist is Tyree Co­lion, who is on a mis­sion to con­vert ar­eas of gun vi­o­lence into “no shoot zones.”

He tries to cre­ate what he calls “in­vis­i­ble force fields” against vi­o­lence by spray-paint­ing mes­sages on build­ings and other struc­tures where vi­o­lence has oc­curred.

Those most likely to pick up guns rec­og­nize th­ese zones and neu­tral ar­eas: They re­spect the space, he said.

The mes­sages “stop shoot­ings, first and fore­most,” Co­lion said. “At worst, it looks like graf­fiti. But to dif­fer­ent gangs, they know what this means: ‘I don’t fear po­lice, I don’t re­spect any­thing else, but I re­spect this.’”

He’s chris­tened 27 such zones in Bal­ti­more city. The fa­tal shoot­ing of a 13-year-old girl Tues­day is what took him across the line into Bal­ti­more County for the first time.

He’d gone to paint a brick wall be­hind a con­ve­nience store, near where the shoot­ing had taken place.

The paint hadn’t even be­gun to dry when four po­lice cars and six uni­formed of­fi­cers showed up on the scene. The wall Co­lion had painted was pri­vately owned, they said. Co­lion in­sisted he’d got­ten per­mis­sion from a store owner. Af­ter 20 min­utes of back and forth, Co­lion was ar­rested and charged with de­struc­tion of prop­erty.

“You can’t stop this,” Co­lion said to an of­fi­cer as he was be­ing hand­cuffed, point­ing his chin to­ward a me­mo­rial to the girl set up on a stair­case and dec­o­rated with teddy bears and a big bunch of bal­loons.

“I can.”

AP/JULIET LINDERMAN

Ac­tivist Tyree Co­lion ear­lier this week spray paints “No Shoot Zone” on a wall be­hind a con­ve­nience store near the spot where a 13-year-old girl was fa­tally shot in Bal­ti­more County, Md. Po­lice ar­rested him for de­struc­tion of pri­vate prop­erty.

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