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)
At least three people were shot in Baltimore, two fatally, during the first Ceasefire weekend of 2019. That’s not unusual; most of these events have failed to live up to the “nobody kill anybody” goal that is their simple rallying cry. As potent as that message is, it doesn’t immediately wash away the trauma that has brought this city to the depths of violence Baltimore routinely experiences. The only thing that can do that is faith in the possibility of change, and this weekend’s Ceasefire shows that faith is spreading.
The first Ceasefire, in the summer of 2017, captured Baltimore’s attention with its novelty and with the passion of its organizers. (It also led to not a little mockery from cynics who thought it was amusing that Baltimore would have to pray for no one to be killed for just one weekend.) The second, later that year, built on the success of the first, and the third, early last year, coincided with the longest stretch without a killing Baltimore had seen in years.
Last weekend’s Ceasefire was the seventh, and as the events have become an institution, the level of hype around them has faded somewhat. But the level of commitment has not. On the contrary, Ceasefire has taken on a life of its own. This weekend saw prayer walks, vigils and the spiritual cleansing of sites of violence that has become one of Ceasefire’s trademarks. But it also featured events sponsored by groups and individuals not directly affiliated with Ceasefire (itself a loose coalition) designed to bring people together to think and talk about the violence in our city and seek ways to replace it with peace and forgiveness.
Ceasefire isn’t the only way Baltimore is seeking to address violence, of course. Many in the city are optimistic about Mayor Catherine Pugh’s choice to lead the police department, former New Orleans police superintendent Michael Harrison. The department’s leaders and the police union have finally worked out a dispute about a shift schedule that contributed to perennial short staffing on patrol. The team monitoring Baltimore’s implementation of its consent decree with the federal government is moving forward with new policies, new technology and new training that stands to improve the police department’s relationship with the community — and its effectiveness.
But in a city where generations of violence have bred a culture of vengeance and retaliation, where pain begets more pain, there is a limit to what law enforcement can accomplish on its own. We need a culture shift, too. The only way we’ll get that is through people gathering together purposefully to create an alternative, to nurture it and help it spread. Critics say the most hardened and violent among us aren’t paying attention to Ceasefire, but the more it grows, the more they’ll find themselves unable to ignore it.
That doesn’t happen quickly or easily, and it doesn’t follow a neat and predictable progression. Some Ceasefires will see a respite from the killings, and some, like this weekend’s, will be marred by violence. But that is not how we should measure whether Ceasefire is working or worthwhile. Every time another person is inspired to believe that Baltimore can be free of violence, Ceasefire succeeds.