It was a bittersweet Saturday for those who showed up to cry for peace and call for a ceasefire on Mother’s Day weekend in Baltimore.
Roughly two dozen people, including parents with children who’ve died in violent crimes, marched the streets of Baltimore for the Mother’s Day “White Out” Cease Fire Peace Walk.
Escorted by Baltimore police, they marched on despite the rain and wind while chanting “Ceasefire” and “United we stand, divided we fall.”
Event organizer Ericka Johnson has picked up her late mother’s torch of walking for peace on Mother’s Day weekend to call attention to gun violence in neighborhoods.
“It’s a cry for peace for mother’s sake,” Johnson said. “Everybody just let these mothers enjoy Mother’s Day without having to bury another child, or be at Shock Trauma with another child.”
She wants to keep her mother’s legacy alive now that the time is right.
“My mother was my best friend. So when she transitioned, I was not in a place to do anything but grieve. It’s been a few years now,” Johnson said. “And you know God pretty much said, ‘Ericka, it’s time for you to keep the vision going and grow it,’ and I’ve been on the move ever since.”
Pastor Sandra Bell “Sandy” Johnson, her mother, was a member of the Johns Hopkins Hospital pastoral staff who became an activist with mothers against gun violence in Baltimore.
Sandy Johnson organized the last of such peace walk on Mother’s Day weekend in 2017 after the death of her brother, Hillard “Petey” Jackson, who died of gun violence in 2000.
The Parkville resident then died unexpectedly the following month on June 23, 2017, of cardiac arrest at age 62.
“I worked alongside her. Now that COVID is in a place that is doable, and I’ve kind of gotten through my grief. It’s been really plaguing my heart to grab the torch up and keep it going,” Johnson said. “Because this was an initiative that was near and dear to my family due to my uncle being killed execution-style.”
Baltimore City Police on Friday recorded 116 homicides in 2022 compared with 109 at the same time in 2021. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and Mayor Brandon Scott participated in the march.
Scott this year pledged $10 million in federal COVID-relief funds to cultivate what his administration calls a “community violence intervention ecosystem.” This happened after an internal review found that Baltimore’s Safe Streets anti-violence initiative lacked oversight.
“The mayor and I and the entire team, we’re always trying to be supportive,” Harrison said. “Our goal is to see the people who live in this area, but have them see us [too] and let them know that we’re in solidarity. We support all efforts and initiatives to make our city better, safer.”
The event started with a pep rally from 11 a.m. to noon in a parking lot at East North Avenue and North Broadway before everyone made their way south on North Broadway.
Bystanders and curious folks came out of their homes and shops to watch as the group also stopped along the way to say prayers.
Daphne Alston, whose son Tariq Alston was killed in Harford County in 2008, teared up as she talked about what the marches mean for her and other mothers who are still grieving.
“The pain I feel is for these young people out here who weren’t given a good start out the gate, who don’t know love and peace and anything. That’s what I feel,” Alston said.
Alston is co-founder of Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters, and helped organize the 2017 march. Her 22-year-old son, of Edgewood, was shot and killed at a party in Joppa in 2008. The case remains unsolved.
“Tomorrow’s Mother’s Day. I’m going to be holding myself together for my other children knowing I want to be somewhere else in the corner letting it all out,” she said.
Marlyn Johnson, of Baltimore, lost her only child to violent crimes earlier this year. She held a sign with a picture of her son, D’re Marin Johnson, who was killed Jan. 28, 2022 in Atlanta, during the march.
“I think our young people need to see us being more unified. They need to see us loving and caring more. And I’m praying for that today as we walk and are committed to cease the fire,” she said. “I think if we continue on this journey, showing more of it, that hopefully somebody will be impacted.”
The walk ended at Jefferson Street and was followed by a luncheon and forum, sponsored by Johns Hopkins University, on the school’s campus. Ericka Johnson hopes to continue her mother’s work and inspire change to make Baltimore safer.
“Because violence in Baltimore is terrible. And that’s why we got to keep these assets going,” she said. “That’s why it’s been pricking at my heart because another mother or another father even should not have to bury another child.”
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This story has been updated to clarify how the city of Baltimore will use federal COVID-relief funds to address violence. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.