A group known for cross-city marches on foot took to bicycles Saturday to protest a recent surge in violence, as the number of homicides in Baltimore has risen to a level not seen in decades.
The 300 Men March, which has held several 10-mile marches along the stretch of North Avenue and back, for the first time rode bikes to promote the message also printed on their black T-shirts: "We must stop killing each other."
The west-to-east Baltimore bike ride took place after 45 people were killed in July, tying a monthly record set in August 1972, when the city had about 275,000 more residents.
"All these incidents are hurting the morale of the city," said Munir Bahar, organizer of the 300 Men March. "Right now it's so desperate, we have to have conversations just about hope. It seems as if a lot of people have given up hope."
The group started their ride at Frederick Douglass High School, near Mondawmin Mall, where rioting first broke out in April after the death of Freddie Gray. The 25-year-old suffered a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody.
They cycled to East Baltimore, which has seen much of the violence this year. The group typically stops to talk to young men along the routes they march to encourage them to give up a life of violence, but Bahar said they planned to "keep it moving" for this event.
More events are planned for the coming months, he said.
About 50 men, young and old, gathered in the Frederick Douglass parking lot to start the bike ride, pumping up flat tires and drinking Gatorade. Nathan Thomas, 17, said the recent spike in violence has left many young people scared to go about their daily activities.
"It's a lot of fear to even go outside," he said. "Bullets are getting flung around."
The teen said he shared information about the bike ride with his friends on Twitter and Instagram and got several of them interested in participating.
"Baltimore can be known as a place not just for violence and killings," he said. "This bike ride is really going to help."
This year 190 people have been killed in Baltimore, with much of the violence coming after Gray's death. The city recorded 42 homicides in May and 29 in June.
Six police officers have been charged in Gray's arrest and death and are scheduled to face trial in October. All of them have pleaded not guilty.
Charlene Rock-Foster, 48, participated in the bike ride after attending a 300 Men March last month.
"Ever since the uprising in April, I've thought that in our city, we are in need of unity," she said, straddling a Titan Trailblazer bike. "With the recent rash of killings, we have to do a better job of getting our views across."
Wade Simmons, who attended a reunion at Frederick Douglass on Saturday, said he wished he had brought a bike to join in. The riots in April "broke my heart," he said.
"There's ways you can express yourself without violence," said Simmons, 54. "It's a sad city now. My prayers are certainly with Baltimore."
Bahar said his group, to prepare for its first bike ride, rode on Friday night with the Baltimore Bike Party, a monthly bike ride throughout the city in which participants often wear costumes.
Bahar said the he hopes his group can inspire an end to some of the violence. In the city's first homicide in August, a 29-year-old was shot in the head early Saturday, Baltimore police said.
"We lost June, we lost July, we lost May. Let's save August," Bahar said.