On a day when at least four people were shot in Baltimore before dinner time — two of them fatally —hundreds of city men took to the streets in a planned 10-mile march along North Avenue, shutting down portions of the thoroughfare, to protest the recent spike in gun violence.
"There's a war going on in our streets" that "starts and ends with our young black men," City Councilman Brandon Scott told the crowd, which included the mayor and police commissioner. "We're going to take our city back. … We can no longer stand on the backs of the women."
Scott and family friend Munir Bahar, who was in trouble as a kid but turned his life around to mentor other city kids, organized the 300 Man March. It was modeled after the 1995 Million Man March in Washington D.C., a massive show of solidarity among African-American men.
The idea was to stir Baltimore's men to action in their own neighborhoods and homes to stop the cycle of violence so frequently driven by drugs and gangs. While many have called on authorities to stem the tide, this was the first time the larger community has come together to fight back.
More than 40 people have been shot since summer began, with 20 of them struck in a single weekend. On Friday, at least four more people were shot by late afternoon.
A man shot in the Johnston Square neighborhood, in the 700 block of E. Preston St., around 2 a.m. died from his wounds, as did a woman shot in her Heritage Crossing home in the 1000 block of Pennsylvania Ave. about 3:30 p.m.
They were homicide numbers 119 and 120 this year.
In an impassioned speech before the march, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts implored those within earshot to take action, saying repeatedly that this wasn't about numbers for him, but about faces.
There are "just too many black faces dying on the streets," he said. "This is not a game to me. This is not a rally to me. … The time for talk is over."
Men, mostly African-American, shouted their support as he spoke.
As the only female speaker, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she spoke on behalf of the women, the many single mothers working multiple jobs to take care of their children — or their children's children — often without help from the fathers.
"We'll do it because we have to, but not because we want to," she said of the hard-working women. "We want to be in partnership with the men in our lives."
As the marchers gathered at the 3400 block of North Ave., bound for a turning point at the intersection with Milton Street five miles away, women lined up on either side of them, clapping and shouting in support.
"Black men and unity are words that typically don't go together," said one marcher, Paz Morris, 37. "Black men and drugs, black men and violence" — that's what some in the city are used to hearing, he said. "But black men and unity I think is what you're witnessing here."
Richard Thornton Jr., a minister, called the event a "first step."
"Sometimes, with things like this, if you just show up and participate, it can lead to other things," said Thornton, 58.
The city's violence is largely contained to its poorer areas, those blighted by drugs and gang activity, Places it can be too easy to write off, some said.
"It's easy to get numb to" the violence until it hits home, said O'Neill McDaniels Jr., 39. Three women were shot in late June, one fatally, in the northeast neighborhood he grew up in.
Darrell Jenkins, 53, blamed much of the violence on the lack of positive male role models who can teach boys that force doesn't equal strength. The father of three came to the march to show his children that he cares about their futures.
Bahar and some of his core helpers wore red paint streaked across their cheekbones — war paint symbolizing the blood of children killed in the city.
"We have a problem," Bahar said, "but we also have a solution."
He raised his right hand in the air and led the marchers out, their adrenaline running high.
As the group crossed Pennsylvania Avenue, north of the earlier homicide, a woman yelled "Keep it going, men!"
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.
twitter.com/triciabishopCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun