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'One day we won't have to call Ceasefires anymore': Prayer walk through West Baltimore honors shooting victims

About a dozen people joined in a prayer walk through neighborhoods in West Baltimore on Saturday morning to commemorate victims of gun violence during Baltimore's first Ceasefire weekend of the year. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun video)

Toting Ceasefire signs, men and women made their way through snowy streets in West Baltimore on Saturday, heading to pray on yet another corner where a shooting victim had died.

Passing drivers honked their support, residents called out “thank you” and Amira Boyd emerged from her house in Gilmor Homes asking if someone could spare an extra sign.

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The prayer walk to commemorate the 11 men and one woman killed in a two-mile stretch in the past year, one of several events marking the city’s first Ceasefire weekend of the year, came as a welcome sign to Boyd and others.

The 27-year-old mother of three said her children’s father was shot and killed in the city in 2017. Now the Sandtown-Winchester resident, who lives near the spot where Freddie Gray was arrested in 2015, won’t let her 7-year-old twins and toddler out in the courtyard to play.

“There’s too much stuff that goes on around here,” said Boyd, who said she believed in the Ceasefire efforts. “It helps a lot. It stops some of the killings that’s going on.”

The quarterly Baltimore Ceasefire, with its slogan, “Nobody kill anybody,” was to run from Friday through Sunday. Baltimore had 309 homicides last year and 25 in the first month of this year. But even as people prayed on sidewalks and held peace vigils, the city added to its count Friday, when police reported a 27-year-old man was shot and later died. Another man was fatally shot Saturday night.

For Erricka Bridgeford, a Ceasefire founder, the movement is all about changing people’s attitudes and behaviors toward one another, if only for a few days at a time. Bridgeford launched Ceasefire in August 2017, urging a 72-hour period without any killings. On Saturday, she joined the prayer walk organized by the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland that began at the Church of St. Katherine of Alexandria on Division Street.

“The goal is that we create a tradition of having sacred weekends in Baltimore, that over time, people know when it’s Ceasefire weekend just like they know it’s Christmas,” a time of year when “there’s a different feeling in the air,” Bridgeford said. “We want the Ceasefire weekends to be like that … that we’re celebrating life, we’re being peaceful on purpose, and that people understand it’s not just about shooting, that it is about peace. How can you be peaceful on purpose for three days straight?

“That is the goal,” she said, “that one day we won’t have to call Ceasefires anymore.”

Members of the Episcopal Diocese have been organizing prayer walks in city neighborhoods for the past 3½ years, said the Rev. Canon Scott Slater, who led Saturday’s walk. It’s a way to keep the memory of homicide victims alive and to remember they have family and friends, Slater said. The group prays for each by name at the spot they died or were found. Most were black men under 30.

At the first stop, in the 400 block of Gold St., Slater led a prayer for Damien Claridy, who was 18. A memorial of red, pink and silver balloons and a teddy bear marked the spot where he died Dec. 30.

“Rest eternal grant to Damien, oh Lord,” Slater prayed.

“And let light perpetual shine upon Damien,” participants responded.

Erricka Bridgeford, founder of Baltimore Ceasefire, stops to pray at a memorial at Gold Street and Druid Hill Avenue for Damien Claridy, 18, who died Dec. 30
Erricka Bridgeford, founder of Baltimore Ceasefire, stops to pray at a memorial at Gold Street and Druid Hill Avenue for Damien Claridy, 18, who died Dec. 30 (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

The victim’s cousin, Kenneth Jordan, joined the walk.

“It’s a sad situation, because he had his whole life ahead of him, you know, only 18 years old. He was a kid,” Jordan said. “It’s time for somebody to do something. I don’t know what. I don’t know how, but time for somebody to take a stand.”

He recalled his cousin having a “positive vibe, even though he was out here, surviving,” and said he tried to warn younger neighborhood kids to stay off the streets, not to follow him.

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“He’d tell them, ‘Stay in school. Go to school,’ ” Jordan said.

Gun violence should be seen as happening to “to all of us,” said Lois Eldred, a Catonsville resident who attends church in West Baltimore and has attended other prayer walks. She joined others navigating icy sidewalks past the blocks of boarded rowhouses that separate tidy homes, corner stores, barber shops and auto repair businesses. Graffiti on the side of one building read, “No shoot zone.”

“It makes it very real, and it humanizes what’s happening with the slaughter in the city,” Eldred said. “It’s really important that people who die will not be forgotten and ... that this whole epidemic be humanized, that you can see the people, the families and the communities that are destroyed by the epidemic of gun violence in the city.”

Angela Furlong came from New Market in Frederick County to lend her voice to the prayers.

“I felt called to come here and pray for the victims of gun violence, whatever the cause,” Furlong said. “We’re all one community, no matter where we live.”

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