One year after first Ceasefire event, Baltimore leaders say program has made a difference

Erricka Bridgeford remembers when she and other neighborhood leaders were trying to drum up support last year for Ceasefire, a call for Baltimoreans to forget their grudges and drop their guns for a 72-hour period.

“Nobody kill anybody” was the simple message.

“It’s completely mind-blowing to me. This time last year, they said it was stupid, they said ‘why just three days, that’s not going to work,’” Bridgeford said this week. “When people know there’s a Ceasefire now, they actually honor it.”

Ceasefire events are now held every three months, and city and neighborhood leaders say the effort has made a positive difference in the Baltimore’s struggle against crime. Police also have applauded the effort.

To mark the one-year anniversary of the event’s launch, organizers will celebrate the fifth Ceasefire this weekend with a peace rally, parade and a free concert. There are more than two dozen events scheduled between Friday and Sunday, including community cleanups, cookouts, violence intervention and prevention workshops, a hiring fair and a basketball tournament.

“The Ceasefire started because people all over Baltimore really just wanted to do something to slow down the violence, and celebrate life, and inject hope and joy into our city,” Bridgeford said. “It’s changed the way we experience murder in Baltimore.”

From the beginning, organizers have been realistic about the chances of a murder-free weekend in a city that has seen more than 300 homicides in each of the last three years. Before the first Ceasefire, Bridgeford said the event would be successful if it deterred a single shooting.

It seems to have made a difference. During four Ceasefire events to date, a total of three people have been killed. Two people were fatally shot during the first Ceasefire weekend last August, and one man was killed during the November event.

The last two Ceasefire events, in February and May of this year, saw no killings. In fact, February’s Ceasefire was part of a 12-day stretch without a homicide — the city’s longest streak since 2015.

“Recognizing that there is no single solution to ending gun violence in our city, I’m so grateful to the Baltimore Ceasefire initiative organizers, and Erricka Bridgeford in particular, for partnering with us and making an important difference in our violence reduction efforts over the past year,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said in an email.

City Councilman Brandon Scott, who chairs the public safety committee, called the movement “successful.”

“I think what Erricka and everyone has done with Ceasefire is show people in Baltimore that anyone can make a difference and that the community can make a difference,” Scott said. “It’s pulled people together, given people hope, allowed people to be a part of their community.”

Bridgeford said Ceasefire is being reproduced in places like Hagerstown, New Orleans, and Kansas City, Mo.

Ceasefire organizers met earlier this week to go over last-minute details about the weekend’s events, including the Saturday parade that will begin at noon at Park Heights and Belvedere avenues and end at Park Heights Avenue and W. Cold Spring Lane.

Community members trickled in as the conversation changed into one about the potential causes of crime, as well as solutions.

Shantay Guy, CEO of Baltimore Community Mediation Center, and Darnyle Wharton, a Baltimore Ceasefire co-organizer, spoke of the importance of community-building.

“Every person you walk past, say ‘How are you doing?’” said Guy. “We have to start to treat each other like neighbors, like humans.”

“It's the neighbors — us — who got to take back our neighborhood,” Wharton said. “We can’t rely on the government to do it.”

Police spokesman T.J. Smith said the department applauds the efforts of the Ceasefire movement.

“It’s a number of things that go into driving down violence, and this is one of them,” Smith said. “This is a group of people who have decided to get up and act, and do something they know is much bigger than a police department-only response.”

As of Thursday, there have been 167 homicides in the city this year, about 20 percent fewer than this time last year. Nonfatal shootings are also down 12 percent over last year.

Crystal Dennis’ son, Xavier Charles, 28, was shot and killed shortly before 5:15 a.m. Sunday in the 2100 block of Presbury St. in West Baltimore.

“It doesn’t even seem real,” Dennis said Thursday. “You never think you will be reading about your own child.”

Dennis said she was familiar with the Ceasefire movement. While events are held around the city four times a year, she asked what was being done about families like hers who lose loved ones in between the events.

Dennis said her son was always generous, and would often help his friends when they needed money. When one of his friends was released from jail, she said, he lent him $200 to get on his feet.

“That’s the kind of person he was,” Dennis said.

For many, the Ceasefire movement has provided an opportunity to take action.

Lawrence Manning got involved after his son was fatally shot in February. He’s come to every meeting since.

“I love my Ceasefire family,” said Manning, a chef and Baltimore native.

On Tuesday, Manning choked back tears as he shared his son’s story in front of more than 30 volunteers and community organizers at the Baltimore Community Mediation Center.

He said his son, Tyrond Manning, often complained about not having enough money to take care of his children. He said his son had five children of his own, and five others that belonged to his ex-wife and girlfriend that he looked after.

So Manning told his son they would start a lawn care business in the neighborhood.

“He was saying he wanted to change,” Manning said. “That’s what let me know he was at a turning point in his life.”

But the father-son venture would never take off. Tyrond, 33, was fatally shot on the night of Feb. 21.

“He was always pouring something into those kids,” Manning said. “Now we have to take care of 10 grandbabies.”

For more information and a list of Ceasefire events, visit baltimoreceasefire.com

llumpkin@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lauren_lumps

A previous version of this story misrepresented Crystal Dennis’ awareness of the Ceasefire movement. Dennis said she is familiar with the events. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.
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