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Despite killings, Baltimore ceasefire leaders say spirit of event will continue

Erricka Bridgeford talks about the Baltimore Ceasefire Sunday morning at the Living Hope at Kingdom Life Church in Baltimore. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun video)

Erricka Bridgeford received a standing ovation from the congregation at Kingdom Life Church Sunday.

Bridgeford, a special guest at the church in West Baltimore, and others had called for a 72-hour halt to the violence that has claimed the lives of more than 200 people in Baltimore so far this year — the fastest pace of violence in modern Baltimore history through July. Groups took the message to the streets, hosting dozens of events, staying out all night and offering food and services. The ceasefire was to end at midnight.

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Despite their efforts, four people were shot, two of them fatally, in Baltimore Saturday and Sunday. Bridgeford reflected on what the ceasefire had achieved.

"We knew this one thing might not keep everybody from killing somebody," she said. "We can talk about how we were afraid, and our fears became irrelevant, and we tried anyway."

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis called the event "a beautiful sight."

"We are proud of the grassroots efforts this weekend with the Baltimore Ceasefire," he said. "This has been a great conversation-starter and momentum-builder. Hopefully everyone who participated in events around the Baltimore Ceasefire will use this as energy to continue to move forward to do their part in driving down violence in our city."

During an upbeat church service that focused on the message of finding light in the darkness, Bridgeford outlined the successes of the movement she said had gained international recognition from supporters as far away as Portugal, Russia and China.

Groups, families and individuals hosted more than 40 events over the course of the weekend to encourage an end to the violence, and "celebrate life on their own terms," she said.

Gang members called Ceasefire organizers to say they would not engage in violence, Bridgeford said. Corner boys said their blocks would stay quiet.

That type of buy-in was critical, she said, in order for it to work at all.

"We knew we were not going to have any success if everybody didn't know about it," she said. "Everybody owned it."

Bridgeford said she was brokenhearted by the two killings this weekend.

But "when you are brokenhearted," she said, "those cracks in your heart now allow for your light to shine out, and for light of the world to shine into you."

Sunlight poured in through the skylights in the church ceiling as she spoke.

Bridgeford said critics likely would point out the two killings and dismiss the weekend's efforts as a failure. But she said the spirit of the ceasefire — and the people who carried it — will continue.

"There is no question about whether the Baltimore Ceasefire is a success," she said. "Around the world, there's no question about that."

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Pastor Michael Phillips introduced Bridgeford and about a half dozen other Baltimore Ceasefire volunteers who attended the service.

"We've got your back!" he shouted, to cheers.

Phillips then read from 2nd Corinthians, preaching about God's ability to shine light in the darkness. The pastor, like most in the pews, wore all white for the service as a sign of solidarity with those who have lost hope and those who have lost loved ones to violence.

"We might be cast down, but we're not conquered," he said. "Somebody might've died in the last few hours, but it ain't over. … [God] is not finished with you yet, and he is not finished with Baltimore yet."

Bridgeford walked arm in arm with Mayor Catherine E. Pugh at the ceasefire's final event on North Avenue on Sunday evening.

"I've said all along, the city can't do this by itself, the police department can't do it by itself, and the question that everybody needs to ask themselves is, what are you doing?" Pugh said. "The ceasefire belongs to you, and I just want to salute you and say thank you."

The final event was briefly interrupted by a shirtless man who ran from police and was tased. He was eventually calmed by police and community members near a stage where a gospel band performed and taken away handcuffed to a stretcher, with taser prongs still stuck to his skin.

Police spokesman T.J. Smith said the man was having a behavioral crisis and was threatening to hurt himself. Another man who jumped onto officers at the event was arrested at the scene, but later released without charges after apologizing, Smith said. The man with the behavioral crisis was taken for an emergency psychiatric evaluation.

Martha Brown, 73, of Towson, has attended Living Hope since 1980. She said the Baltimore Ceasefire was "awfully bold," but poignant.

Bridgeford is "right about things," she said. "We have to stick together, so people can recognize what's going on in the city."

Delores Hawkins, a church member who grew up on Caton Avenue before moving to Columbia, found Bridgeford's message of nonviolence to be "a breath of fresh air."

"She was truthful, no pretense," Hawkins said. "It's important to keep striving for it."

Her daughter, Toya Robertson, 19, said she follows an Instagram account that posts photos of those killed in the city, and sees the posts so frequently that it becomes unnervingly easy to keep scrolling.

"I didn't realize I was numb to it," she said. "'Another soul is lost.' 'Rest in Peace this person,' 'Rest in Peace that person.' "

If nothing else, she said, the effort was successful in bringing so many people together and to push for peace in Baltimore's streets.

"The goal wasn't reached," Robertson said, "but it reached a lot of people's hearts."

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