xml:space="preserve">
Taylor Hayes' family and other community members gathered to honor her life on Friday, July 20, in Baltimore, and released birds as part of a celebration and block party. Taylor, a 7-year-old girl, was shot on July 5 and died on July 19.
Taylor Hayes' family and other community members gathered to honor her life on Friday, July 20, in Baltimore, and released birds as part of a celebration and block party. Taylor, a 7-year-old girl, was shot on July 5 and died on July 19. (Jay Reed / Baltimore Sun)

It must be owing to the too much of it all — too much violence, too much death and too many sidewalk memorials over too many years — that Shannon Craig, registered nurse and community activist, decided that Friday night’s gathering in honor of 7-year-old Taylor Hayes had to be different.

People tie flowers, balloons and teddy bears to lamp posts and stop signs. It’s what Baltimoreans have done for decades. It’s a tradition.

Advertisement

But, this time, Shannon Craig decided, that tradition would not do.

A child had been killed, and the other children in her neighborhood needed to be reassured that everything will be all right.

Baltimore Police Commissioner, Gary Tuggle and Baltimore Police Spokesman, T.J. Smith hold a press conference about the death of 7-year-old Taylor Hayes.

“We want to let the children know they can come out and be safe, and they don’t have to worry about being shot,” Craig said. “We need to let these babies know the community stands behind them, that they can grow up to be doctors, nurses or lawyers, whatever they want to be...”

So Craig and her friend, Ashley Bess, decided to eschew votive candles and quiet prayers for an event that was more block party than vigil. They wanted to brighten a summer night for the children of West Baltimore and pull families out of their homes for group hugs.

They wanted, in Craig’s words, “an event about love and life.”

“We wanted to give the kids a safe place to play, even for a couple of hours,” said Bess. “We wanted to do something for the community.”

They succeeded, big-time.

I’ve seen many quickly organized memorials for people slain on city streets, but never like the one that came together after 6 o’clock Friday.

Latrika Morgan holds up a picture of Taylor Hayes during a community gathering on Friday, July 2o.
Latrika Morgan holds up a picture of Taylor Hayes during a community gathering on Friday, July 2o. (Jay Reed / Baltimore Sun)

Hundreds of men, women and children, some of them wearing white headbands designating the wearers as members of the “Taylor Gang,” filled the corner of Edmondson and Loudon avenues, near Taylor’s home, for what Craig had billed on Facebook as a “Neighborhood Night Out: A Pizza Party for Peace.”

There were no candles, but dozens of purple and white balloons, and T-shirts bearing Taylor’s name and image, in numerous styles and colors. A man named Quincy Jones gave away T-shirts with a simple message: “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” Val Jenkins, founder of a group called Hug Don’t Shoot, was there with her team, carrying out their mission to “provide a sense of peace throughout the communities, one hug at a time.”

The deejay’s music was hip-hop and loud. There was a snowball stand, and tables covered with cupcakes, snacks, fruit juice and Little Caesar’s pizza.

Police announced they have located the vehicle that was seen fleeing the shooting July 5, but did not say how the development may have advanced the case. They continue to search for witnesses and the suspect.

A woman showed little girls how to play hopscotch. The deejay called for strangers to hug each other. Someone noticed a police officer standing nearby.

“Hug that cop,” he said. Someone did.

Police stopped traffic in the 3900 block of Edmondson Avenue when the crowd moved into the street to watch a fleet of motorcycles and three-wheeled Slingshots put on a show.

Advertisement

Craig and Bess organized the event after Taylor died Thursday from a gunshot wound the little girl sustained in the backseat of a car July 5. No charges have been filed in Taylor’s death. Police believe there were witnesses, but so far no one has come forward with information about the weekday afternoon shooting.

A preacher mentioned that exasperating fact during a litany of pleas to the Almighty. The passionate Candace Willett, of Walk By Faith Ministries, managed to silence the crowd for a few minutes of prayer.

Motorcycle enthusiasts came to perform at the gathering for Taylor Hayes, a 7-year-old girl, who was shot on July 5 and died on July 19.
Motorcycle enthusiasts came to perform at the gathering for Taylor Hayes, a 7-year-old girl, who was shot on July 5 and died on July 19. (Jay Reed / Baltimore Sun)

“God, I know that you hear us,” she said, and among her appeals was this: “You cannot allow a person to shoot a 7-year-old and get away free.”

That’s another Baltimore tradition that needs to go away — the stop snitchin’ culture. It’s been around a long time and, while part of local criminal code, it’s also a product of fear, perhaps now more than ever. The contagion of retaliation has been virulent in the city these last three years. So fear is a major factor in the silence.

A reporter asked interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle about that Friday morning.

“I get the issue of fear,” Tuggle said. “But we are talking about the life of a 7-year-old child that has been snuffed out.... That child needs justice. Her family needs justice.”

On Edmondson Avenue Friday night, Shannon Craig handed out T-shirts with No. 7, for Taylor’s age, on the back.

“We can’t keep living like this,” she said. “We’re tired of seeing death, tired of this frustration, tired of losing our communities…. Let this be the last day we come out because someone lost a life. Let this be the first day that we stand as a community, for Baltimore.”

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement