Ceasefire volunteers undeterred as calls for end to violence mix with familiar sound of gunfire

Organizers and supporters of a 72-hour Baltimore “ceasefire” initiative marched and prayed Saturday, even as they acknowledged that their fervent pleas for peace could not halt the relentless pace of shootings and killings in Baltimore.

On the second day of a community initiative aimed at stopping — or at least slowing — gun violence, Baltimoreans held vigils, cookouts and other events. Some stood on corners with signs reading “Baltimore Ceasefire” or “Free Hugs.”

But even as ceasefire events continued late Saturday afternoon and into the evening, police reported three shootings, two of them fatal.

A 24-year-old man was shot in Pigtown, near Carroll Park, around 5 p.m. Saturday and pronounced dead at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. A 37-year-old man was killed in a shooting in the 1600 block of Gertrude Street in Northwest Baltimore about 10 p.m. A nonfatal shooting occurred earlier in the afternoon in the 4800 block of Park Heights Avenue.

As they promised, however, Baltimore Ceasefire participants showed up at the fatal shooting at Sargeant and Carey streets to support neighbors, hugging and speaking to residents.

The Ceasefire volunteers were joined by a representative of Mayor Catherine Pugh, who listened to passionate pleas from residents to reopen a nearby recreation center to offer children a constructive place to spend their time.

“If you want to stop the killing, you need to open the rec centers. There’s nowhere else for these kids to go except the street,” said Nichole Dawkins, 47, who lives a block away from where the homicide took place. "We need more than just talk. We need action. You can’t lead kids to a rec center if it’s closed.”

Shuna Smith and her husband, Von Vargas, showed up at the scene with other Ceasefire participants and said they were sad about the killing but encouraged that it was the first in about 41 hours since the ceasefire officially began at midnight early Friday.

“We don't know what we have prevented,” Smith said. “You can’t reach everyone at one time.”

Adam Jackson, chief executive officer of the group called Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, also arrived and spoke with neighbors about solutions. He said city officials needed to stop funneling money to a few nonprofits and give money directly to neighborhoods, where residents know what is needed to reduce the violence.

“Invest in the people,” Jackson said.

Earlier, Ceasefire participants had said the goal was to help unify the city.

“This is to let the people in the community know that there’s hope,” said Tyrone Boyette, who was part of a somber walk in which participants stopped at each of the sites in a West Baltimore neighborhood where 11 men were killed in recent months.

“We know it’s not going to stop the murders, but it’s a start,” Boyette said.

Boyette was joined by about 150 people in the neighborhood surrounding Frederick Douglass High School and Mondawmin Mall, where police and some residents had squared off in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray. Gray died of injuries suffered while in police custody. Organizers of this weekend’s events picked that area in part because it became part of the city’s public profile during the riots.

At the site of each killing, the Rev. Scott Slater — who works with the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland — announced the name of the victim, the date of his death and his age.

“Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord,” Slater would say in prayer at each stop, replacing the “him” with the name of the recent victims, who were as young as 18.

“And let perpetual light shine upon him,” the marchers would answer back.

The sites were so close together that the group often walked just a block or so to get from one to the next.

Baltimore communities have long held events to memorialize and call attention to shooting victims. At the beginning of each year, an organization called Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United holds a public meeting and reads the names aloud of every person killed in the city in the previous year.

The Ceasefire initiative came from Erricka Bridgeford, 44, and other community leaders who created a blunt message: “Nobody kill anybody.” By the end of July, violence had already resulted in a record 204 homicides in the city.

“The Baltimore Ceasefire was not declared by any one organization,” organizers wrote on their website. “This ceasefire is the product of Baltimore residents not only being exhausted by homicides, but believing that Baltimore can have a murder-free weekend if everyone takes responsibility.”

There were more than 30 events planned in connection with the ceasefire citywide over the weekend

A number of groups were represented Saturday. They included Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, and Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. Some elected officials also participated.

“It’s solemn,” said Del. Shelly Hettleman of Baltimore County, who joined the West Baltimore marchers on a clear, unseasonably cool morning. “I mean, it’s shocking when you’re standing in the area where you know someone lost their life. You look around, and there are some boarded-up houses, but then in another house there are men and women sitting on the stoop and you realize this is their neighborhood and their community. And it’s really important for them to know that outside of their immediate community that people are focused and care a lot about what happens here.”

Hettleman and others had held out hope early Saturday that the weekend might be free of gun violence.

But none said they would consider the ceasefire a failure — no matter what occurred in the city over the weekend.

Police said they were searching Saturday for witnesses following the fatal shooting near the intersection of South Carey Street and Sargeant Street.

Police said the victim in the nonfatal Park Heights shooting was a 22-year-old man who showed up at a hospital with a gunshot wound to the arm. The names of the victims were not released.

More “ceasefire” activities were scheduled for Sunday, including church events and a peace walk and vigil.

“It’s sad that sometimes you get used to doing causes like this,” said Boyette. “But the more people that participate, the less people that are out there committing a crime.”

As Orioles fans filed into Camden Yards less than a mile east of the Pigtown shooting for Saturday’s evening game, Smith stood near where the killing took place and felt encouraged. The presence of so many people at a homicide scene may just propel the ceasefire beyond 72 hours, she said.

“It’s not just a weekend,” she said. “It’s becoming a movement.”

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