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Ceasefire events across Baltimore reflect hope for homicide-free weekend

Ceasefire events across Baltimore reflect hope for homicide-free weekend
Leonora Pompey, of North Baltimore, receives instruction from Milton Kent, president of Breeze Social Dance Studio, during Baltimore Ceasefire's Urban Dance Event at the Forest Park Senior Center, one of the events taking place as part of a Ceasefire anti-violence weekend. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Organizers of Baltimore’s third Ceasefire weekend spent much of Saturday looking back at recent violence, and forward to the potential for better days.

Specifically, they hoped Sunday would arrive without anyone being killed on the city’s streets.

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The goal for Ceasefire, a movement advocating for a break in the pace of Baltimore homicides, remained the same as in two previous campaigns last year: A 72-hour stretch without death.

This weekend’s Ceasefire has included music, rallies, discussions and memorials to the dead. Organizers listed nearly 20 events for Saturday alone and say their message is penetrating deeper into the community.

Last year, there were 341 homicides in Baltimore, the highest per-capita rate on record. It was the third year in a row the tally topped 300. The rising violence alarmed officials and spurred lead organizer Erricka Bridgeford to call for the first Ceasefire event. She adopted the slogan “Nobody kill anybody.”

At a senior center in Gwynn Oak on Saturday afternoon, dance teacher Milton Kent led a class on urban ballroom dance.

Ceasefire organizer Letrice Gant was on hand, and watched as Kent glided around the floor, easily blending together different styles of dance steps.

“It’s been beautiful watching the community show up and show out for each other,” Gant said of the citywide schedule of events. “That’s the spirit of Ceasefire.”

Lucy Moran, another dance instructor, said that she wanted to use the session to showcase the urban ballroom style as a lesser-known product of the city’s black community.

“The world of dance in general doesn’t know this exists,” Moran said.

Earlier in the day, events included a peace walk, youth activities and a remembrance ceremony. In north Baltimore’s Wyndhurst neighborhood, artist Barbara Treasure had set up banners and prayer flags visible to traffic passing along Charles Street to promote the campaign.

Treasure said she took part in the previous two Ceasefire weekends, in August and November, and decided to scale up her work for the third.

Too often, she said, residents from different areas of the city forget how much they have in common, including the desire for a safer place to live.

“Everyone is connected to the trauma and pain of homicides in Baltimore,” she said. The Ceasefire events, she said, empower residents to provide “strength and heal the city from the grassroots up.”

The weekends, she said, “take you out of your silo.”

City police spokesman T.J. Smith said the department is grateful for grassroots efforts such as Ceasefire.

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“It’s been made clear from the government and the community that it takes all of us to stop the violence,” he said. “The efforts of the Ceasefire group are greatly appreciated.

“This is more than a weekend,” Smith said. “It’s a movement of mobilizing people for a common goal.”

More events were listed for Sunday on the organization’s website, baltimoreceasefire.com, including a quilt workshop to remember those lost to violence, and the forming of a human chain at 2 p.m. at Edmondson Avenue and Hilton Parkway.

Ceasefire participant Michael Haynes live-streamed the event to Facebook as he held his sign in the rain. “This one obviously has taken effect,” he said of the ceasefire.
Ceasefire participant Michael Haynes live-streamed the event to Facebook as he held his sign in the rain. “This one obviously has taken effect,” he said of the ceasefire.

The rain and the cold made for a meager turnout at the intersection of Edmonson Avenue and Hilton Street on Sunday afternoon.

"This weather hasn’t been very nice to us, but the murders have been nice to us,” said organizer Lynn Forman. She checked the smartphone in her pocket. “Yeah, nothing,” she said. "Ten more hours to go.”

“Do you need a sign?” she asked two women carrying umbrellas.

Cars honked as they drove by. To the Rev. Florence Ledyard of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, it was a beautiful sound. “It makes my heart glad. It makes my spirit rejoice,” she said. “It’s a symbol of solidarity and commitment.” Later, she read the names of all those killed since the most recent Ceasefire. It was a long list.

In the afternoon, police announced that a man shot last week had died in the hospital over the weekend — during the time of the ceasefire.

"Everyone’s life does matter,” said Darlene Cain. “We’re praying for him.”

The previous Ceasefire weekends have seen some instances of deadly violence, but there have been some stretches when the city has gone several days without anyone being killed.

The first month of 2018 held out some promise of a less deadly year to come. In January, the city saw 26 homicides, down from 32 recorded in the same month last year.

Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this story.

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