Still reeling from the shooting death of his friend Dante Barksdale, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott turned back to some of Barksdale’s old social media posts.
The popular organizer of Baltimore’s neighborhood nonviolence program was gunned down Sunday in the Douglass Homes housing projects. The mayor felt hurt and angry. Then he came upon Barksdale’s own calming words.
“‘The most gangster sh— in the world is forgiveness,’” Scott repeated. “That level-set me to where he would want me to be right now.”
The mayor spoke to more than 700 people who tuned in to mourn Barksdale at a virtual vigil Monday night. As the face of the city’s Safe Streets anti-violence program, Barksdale, known as “Tater,” worked more than a decade to get the young men of Baltimore’s poorest, toughest neighborhoods to put down their guns.
“A man who saved thousands of live in our city,” said Scott, ordering the City Hall Dome lighted in the Safe Streets color of orange.
Meanwhile, police were searching for the person who shot Barksdale in the head around 11:15 Sunday morning in the 200 block of Dallas Court in the east side housing project. On Monday, police announced a cash reward of up to $7,000 for information leading to an arrest.
Barksdale’s family, Safe Streets colleagues and City Hall leaders spoke Monday night about his legacy, describing him as the embodiment of the Safe Streets message: that it doesn’t matter how one starts in life, but how one finishes. The nephew of a notorious Baltimore gangster, Barksdale himself went from prison to City Hall.
“He turned his life around and worked tirelessly for almost a decade, showing those who thought there was only one way to survive the streets there was another way,” said Shantay Jackson, the director of the city’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement.
Police have provided few details about his killing. His older brother, Alvin, told the virtual crowd that his brother had been feeling worn out.
“He was telling me, ‘I’m getting tired. I’m getting tired because I get these calls. All day, I’m hearing about murder,’” Alvin Barksdale recalled.
The city continues to grapple with the surge of gun violence that took off in 2015. Baltimore has exceeded 300 homicides for six straight years.
“I love my brother, I miss him, and I don’t want his legacy to fail,” Alvin Barksdale told the crowd. “We have to do something about those bullets.”
As Baltimore’s state senators held a meeting Monday night, Sen. Cory McCray noted Barksdale’s death.
”He was doing heavy work, great work, transforming our communities,” McCray said at the start of the video meeting. “In his honor, we must commit to working harder to promote safer streets throughout our great city.”
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To many young men, Barksdale was a trusted voice, a confidant and mentor. His credibility came from experience behind bars and as the nephew of Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale, whose crimes and run-ins with police inspired the HBO series “The Wire.”
Dante Barksdale recounted his youth in the streets in a 2009 memoir titled “Growing Up Barksdale.” He wrote that his “reputation as a hustler” held sway with younger men. None would suspect him of working with the police or not understanding the difficulties of life in Baltimore’s crime-ravaged neighborhoods.
Barksdale found success with the first young man he mentored. Calvin Harper would go on to work for Safe Streets himself.
“He was more than a director to me, he was my family, an uncle to me, and someone I can go to for guidance, encouragement,” Harper said.
Harper was rubbing his eyes and forehead, trying to hold himself together.
“I am what change looks like because of Tater,” he said. “I love you, Tater. Rest in peace.”
Reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.