Annual crusade lends a hand against violence


In Baltimore, the killing hasn't stopped, and neither has the Rev. Willie E. Ray, a persistent activist who has crusaded against street violence for almost a decade.

Yesterday, he and a band of his loyal supporters were trumpeting the anti-violence message again as they attempted to organize a chain of hands between the east and west sides of the city in his "Love Hands Across Baltimore Crusade."

At Mr. Ray's seventh such event in as many years, he had to settle for about 50 men, women and children linking hands on the steps of the city Board of Education headquarters in the middle of a blighted block of East North Avenue.

As the group held hands, the Rev. Arnold W. Howard, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, prayed, "We cry loudly and boldly, Lord, to stop the killing and the violence."

The thin turnout didn't fluster Mr. Ray or those who did attend.

But the minister tried in vain to muster North Avenue residents sitting on their front steps watching the rally from across the street. They declined to join the event. "That tells you something about the people's attitude when you can't even get them to come out of their homes," he said.

A few neighborhood children drifted over to watch a brief performance by the Baltimore Police Athletic League Marching Band.

Lisa Hurka-Covington, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Coalition to Stop the Killing, which Mr. Ray founded, said, "There may not be many people here today, but it's a start. Every life is precious, so we've got to point our foot in the right direction. At least we've done that here today."

Jessie Snead, a Baltimore resident and a mother of six who lost her oldest son to violence, was among those who thought the event was worthwhile.

"We're letting the people know everything is not hopeless. There is hope. The younger our children know that, the better off we'll all be," Mrs. Snead said. "We don't want to call these kids the lost generation. As long as we teach them there is an alternative to violence, we won't have to."

She said Mr. Ray had influenced her to get involved with the crusade against violence after her son, Terrance Thompson, 26, died of gunshot and stab wounds in West Baltimore in September 1993.

Mrs. Snead is a member of Survivors Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE), a Baltimore-based activist group of people who have lost relatives or friends to homicide. About 10 members of the group took part in yesterday's rally.

"It's important for adults to get involved. It's the only way children will learn how to end the violence," Mrs. Snead said.

Mr. Ray said his group, SAVE and others plan to focus on persuading community leaders to appoint neighborhood block captains who would organize events at which residents are taught how to prevent violence.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, a mayoral candidate, was one of several politicians who attended the event.

Another was Michael Johnson, a Park Heights resident who is running for the 5th District City Council seat. He said city residents should not expect police or politicians to shoulder all of the responsibility for breaking the grip of violence on city neighborhoods.

According to the Baltimore Police Department, the city's homicide toll is 143 this year, 10 percent higher than at the same time last year.

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