With violence spiraling after the death of Freddie Gray, a small group of Baltimoreans called out to everyone who lives, works or loves in Baltimore City: “nobody kill anybody” from Aug. 4 to 6, 2017. Since then, organizers in this city have called a ceasefire every season, and Baltimore has responded.
I was a surgical critical care fellow at the time, meeting victims of violence in the trauma bay of Johns Hopkins Hospital where we were often too late to reverse the damage that bullets had done to their bodies before they arrived.
When I heard the call for a ceasefire on the radio, it was like they were calling on me. I attended Baltimore Ceasefire meetings and gave a presentation on the epidemiology of violence and intervention in Baltimore. We went out all over the city with Baltimore Ceasefire to give out fliers, place posters and talk to our neighbors about how to celebrate life and end violence in the city. We held resource fairs, rallies, block parties and art shows. We coordinated with hospital-based violence responders and community groups, such as Safe Streets and Out For Justice, because Baltimore Ceasefire is not an organization, but a collaboration of groups and individuals who love Baltimore and accept the Peace Challenge to celebrate life and end violence.
I had been showing up to work to take care of people injured by violence, but Baltimore Ceasefire showed me a different way to show up in the communities of Baltimore. Since the killing of Lamontrey Tynes on Aug. 5, 2017, Erricka Bridgeford and others from Baltimore Ceasefire have responded to the locations of murders in Baltimore with a “sacred space” ritual. We have burned sage, prayed and recited the names of those who too often die with no obituary. I’ve been present for the rituals for children such as Taylor Hayes and Ray Glasgow; I’ve taken care of a dying patient in the hospital, and later embraced their family on the corner where they were slain. At times these sacred space rituals have dozens or even a hundred participants; sometimes it’s only two or three of us.
This has taken place in the shadow of the police corruption of the Gun Trace Task Force and with a leadership crisis that extends from City Hall to Annapolis to the White House. Baltimore is on its third mayor and fifth police chief since 2015. Meanwhile, the governor has chosen to divest from city projects such as the Red Line subway in favor of investments in suburban and rural highways that appear to benefit his real estate holdings. The president has mocked our city on a national stage, and his absence at the funeral of the late West Baltimore Rep. Elijah Cummings made it clear he feels the late congressman’s constituents do not matter.
This most recent Baltimore Ceasefire weekend was also the most difficult for many of the organizers. The weekend began with three murders on Friday all across the city. The weekend ended with another murder in Cherry Hill, where Safe Streets had just celebrated a year with no killings in their neighborhood. The next week saw more killings in Cherry Hill, reminding us how tenuous our peace can be, and how profound the consequence of violence.
Our sense of loss was heightened because we have seen the benefits of our peace work. As this weekend began, we were preparing a manuscript with psychologist and researcher Peter Phalen, for the premier public health journal in the country, showing the affect of Baltimore Ceasefire organizing on gun violence in the city. The analysis found that gun violence decreased 50% during Baltimore Ceasefire weekends. I read this not only as a proof of concept, but a moral imperative calling from the pages of the manuscript. Now that we know that showing up makes a difference, how will others show up?
I think there is tremendous power when we step out of our comfort zone into those sacred space rituals. I also believe that if thousands responded to celebrate life and support a grieving community every time someone was murdered in Baltimore, we would transform this city. Such rituals, events and meeting announcements are posted in advance on the Baltimore Ceasefire webpage, so I hope we become a part of this struggle in that sacred space.
Dr. Simon Fitzgerald (email@example.com) is a trauma surgeon from Baltimore and a Baltimore Ceasefire ambassador. He co-authored the article published in the American Journal of Public Health, “Baltimore Ceasefire 365: estimated impact of a recurring community-led ceasefire on gun violence.”