Edgewood community members call for end to violence at vigil

Late Friday afternoon, it looked as though the End of Violence Community Healing Night/Vigil at the Edgewater Village basketball court in Edgewood would be rained out.

But, as the scheduled start time of 6:30 drew closer, the rain subsided, the dark clouds left the area and the sun shined over the court, almost poetically giving hope to the neighborhood that recent violence, which has resulted in multiple shootings over a two-week period, could end.

About 50 people showed up to the vigil Friday night to speak against increased crime and violence after 24-year-old Quinton Stokes was shot and killed in the 1800 block of Grempler Way, right next to the basketball court, after 10 p.m. Saturday.

The vigil was scheduled to start at 6:30, but seeing the basketball court empty at the time, the event's organizer, Mildred Samy, co-founder of M.O.M.S. (Mothers of Murdered Sons & Daughters of Maryland) was driven around the surrounding streets speaking into a megaphone, alerting the neighborhood to the vigil and shouting "Put a stop to this! This is our community!"

About a half hour afterward, a sizable crowd of young and old was gathered around the edge of the court and Samy traded her megaphone for a microphone connected to a large speaker and spoke about how the violence needed to end.

"We have come here to save a community; a community where many of us came to live," Samy began, almost shouting into the microphone. "A community where our children can make memories, not nightmares; a community where our children can play."

"These kids are out here for the summer! They just got out of school," Samy continued, often drawing applause. "They don't need to be running around here dodging bullets!"

"We've got to communicate," Samy urged the crowd. "We've got to talk this out. We have to reach a solution. Murder is not the solution! Murder begets murder."

"I know you're not trying to copycat Baltimore City, or New York or Chicago," Samy said. "This is Edgewood. I want Edgewood to be remembered as a community that came together! A community that fought to live, a community that loves to live."

"Y'all got me out here again, and I guess I'm going to be out here till I die, but that's OK," Samy said. "But I'm going to fight for Edgewood like you wouldn't believe!"

Next, Daphne Alston, a co-founder of M.O.M.S., spoke about how the event organizers weren't there to preach to or criticize the audience, but to "say that we've had enough."

"We decided that we [don't] want another mother to have to go through what we live through every day," Alston said. "Is this the life that God has for us? How can we all say we love God, who we have never seen, and can't even love our own neighbors and our own family members?"

Alston lamented the fact that not a single elected official or member of Edgewood Community Council was in attendance, with the presence of former state senator Art Helton being the closest thing.

"Every time you go to the poll and pull that lever, y'all better know who's going to do something for y'all, because there's nobody here and they had ample time to come out and show you that they support you," Alston said.

Alston traced the community's problems back to the way parents raise their children.

"This is how the children suffer. It's cry out for help when you see pants hanging down and the hair all over the place going to school," Alston said. "Y'all need to be in the school system every day worrying about the education of your children."

Bilal Ali, a community activist from Baltimore City, spoke about the effects violence can have, and what can be done about it.

"I make my appeal to the men, because if we're sitting back and not stepping up and not manning up, then we are a part of the problem as opposed to the solution," Ali said. "Everybody in the community has to be responsible for everybody in the community."

"If you don't have that type of mindset where your next door neighbor can intervene when your kid is acting inappropriately, then that begins that culture of 'you can't say nothing to me, mind your business, you can't see anything or say anything' when you openly know that it's people in your community that's preying among the vulnerable and weak in your community," Ali said.

Ali told the crowd that just speaking out isn't enough.

"Change doesn't just come about because you grab a microphone and say 'well, hey, we're gonna do this and we're gonna do that,' " Ali said. "No, it doesn't happen like that. You actually gotta take a stand. But it has to be the community engaging all aspects of the community."

Rhonda Glover, whose son, Mr. Stokes, was killed right next to the basketball court in the 1800 block of Grempler Way Saturday, briefly spoke, urging community members to cooperate with police.

"If you want to help me and my son, tell it to the detectives, please," Glover said. "Let them do what they do. They are helpful. But you cannot go at them angry. If you go at them angry, you get no results."

Before the vigil, Glover said that her son's murder "puts a story to all of this senseless violence that's going on."

"Mothers shouldn't have to bury their sons," Glover said. "I feel like I'm still in a dream."

Glover says her son's death and the recent violence in the community was the result in large part to the breakdown of the community.

"They know what's going on, but they keep doing the same things," Glover said, citing "the fighting, the division and no unity in the community" as contributing factors.

Helton, who represented the area in the Maryland legislature from 1974 to 1982 and is running for the Senate seat in 2014, also spoke.

Helton said he was invited to come by his good friends Samy and Alston, and noted that he helped bring in the basketball court and attached playground to the neighborhood.

"It is a place where we should be able to find peace, and we should be able to trust that our children are in good standing in a good place," he said. "We've got all the tools this neighborhood needs to thrive and survive."

Helton said that while the community needs to help itself, action is needed from the Harford County Council to introduce a habitability code to establish minimum standards for home ownership.

"I think we have an overabundance of absentee landlords here who are not taking care of number one, their properties and number two, who they rent to," Helton said.

Later, toward the end of the vigil, Samy spoke again, saying that she wants to bring "the biggest block party that Edgewood has ever had" to the neighborhood and that it wasn't going to be "a healing night or vigil."

"This is going to be a celebration of life," Samy said, almost shouting. "Now, I'm going to need ya'll help, so y'all going to need to come and talk to me and let's get this thing on the road, because we're going to put Edgewood on the map as a community that came together!"

Alston then spoke again and urged residents to attend the upcoming community meeting Wednesday at the Edgewood Recreation Center at 7 p.m., again noting that there weren't any public officials present.

"We want everybody busting the doors down to come in there," Alston said. "We want them to find out where these homeowners are to get this property fixed up around here."

In closing, Alston mentioned that those who had recently been killed in the neighborhood "were human beings but did some things they shouldn't have."

"We want to apologize for them right now because it seems like this generation has watched some things that they did and they're thinking it was good and it wasn't right," Alston said, almost sobbing. "But no one has the right to take no one's life. No one."

After the vigil ended, a more positive side of the community saw people share hot dogs, soda and chips as music played and kids played basketball on the court.

Sam Miller used to live in the neighborhood until about four years ago when his wife died, and was at a loss for words to describe the toll violence has taken since then.

"I don't understand it," Miller, now a Havre de Grace resident, said. "I'm afraid to come in here sometimes."

"It wasn't that bad [back then]," Miller added. "It's getting worse."

Robin Anderson has lived in the community for 25 years and came because she is fed up with the violence.

"I'm tired of it," she said. "If we all work together, it will get better."

"I have faith that there will be a change," Anderson said.

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