National News

Organizer: Despite two weekend shooting deaths, Baltimore ceasefire is a 'movement'

Posted August 6
Updated August 7

Hours after two gun deaths interrupted a 72-hour grassroots "ceasefire" in Baltimore, one of the organizers had a message early Sunday for those she said claimed the ceasefire had ended.

"Stop panicking out loud, find a corner and watch us keep getting this work," Erricka Bridgeford said Sunday, speaking one of Baltimore's churches. "Just please know that you and your misguided 'it-ain't-worked' perception does not ... speak for this movement."

The movement was the message Sunday, a day after gunfire that has become a common sound echoing through some Baltimore streets claimed two more lives.

Some 40 hours after the weekend ceasefire began, a 24-year-old man was fatally shot Saturday afternoon. Hours later, a 37-year-old shooting victim died at a local hospital, pushing the city's homicide total for 2017 to 210 -- compared with 318 for all of last year, according to a tally by The Baltimore Sun.

Saturday's killings weren't the only gun violence incidents. Baltimore police said a person was wounded in a different shooting.

But Bridgeford and supporters viewed the grassroots effort at quelling the deadly violence as a success -- a start. Bridgeford said the city showed the world the power of unity.

Supporters also said the ceasefire sparked a conversation about ways to curb violence, and created momentum that they hope will spread in subsequent weeks..

"There are a lot of conversations that are going on right now to keep this momentum going. That's what's most important," said Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith, whose brother was fatally shot in July. "This situation didn't get to where it is overnight and we're not going to emerge from the situation ... overnight."

He added: "One thing for sure, the organizers of the ceasefire did something: They got a movement started."

'I want you to see me standing with you'

Several attempts by CNN to reach Bridgeford on Sunday were unsuccessful.

But before the ceasefire weekend, Bridgeford and other community leaders hit the streets of West Baltimore urging drug dealers and gang members to put down their guns.

Scheduled weekend events included cookouts, prayer vigils, peace walks and neighborhood cleanups.

"This is about a culture shift," Bridgeford told CNN then. "It's about helping people realize they have a choice in their decision-making. Not just about committing violence but about feeling hopeless that there's nothing we can do about the level of violence in our communities."

Khalilah M. Harris, a resident of Baltimore for 23 years, said people who don't live in Baltimore may have misconceptions of the city, but residents know "if we don't want there to be 200-plus murders at this point next year, we all are going to have to put skin in the game."

She attended a peace walk Saturday organized by Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence and others. During the walk, an Episcopal priest and others stopped at the scene of homicides this year. Drivers honked their horns and slowed down.

"While we were on the walk, people prayed with young men who came up and ... said, 'Thank you, I appreciate this. I'm trying to do my best,'" Harris said.

She said Baltimore residents want to reclaim their communities.

"So, in an event devised by a black woman, in a black city, people of all races and colors and religions stood up together and said ... 'I see you and I want you to see me standing with you,'" Harris said.

The ceasefire effort was also personal for Bridgeford, 44, one of six organizers.

"One of my brothers was shot in 2001 and survived," she told CNN earlier. "In 2007, I lost another brother to homicide. Two of my first cousins were murdered. Three of their brothers were murdered. One of my stepsons was murdered. Two weeks ago, somebody that I watched grow up was murdered. I go to three or four funerals a year."

On Saturday, there was a vigil near the scene of the 24-year-old man's killing.

Police spokesman Smith mentioned the homicide in a tweet and said "the work doesn't stop. Organizers called and are in the area to continue to spread love."

"We didn't have an expectation that this was going to stop things, but it certainly got the conversation going," he said.

Harris recalled hearing a police commander say he didn't remember a Friday night without a shooting in his 26 years with the department.

Apart from the rising homicide rate, the city is still reeling from the racially charged riots that followed the death of Freddie Gray, who died in police custody in 2015.

In April, a federal judge approved a consent decree after a Justice Department report found wide racial disparity in how the Baltimore police treated citizens. The federal oversight stemmed from a civil rights investigation that began after Gray's death.

Six officers were indicted on a range of charges in connection with Gray's death. Three of the officers were acquitted, and in July 2016, prosecutors dropped charges against the remaining three.

Gray's death sparked an uprising and fueled on ongoing debate over racial bias in policing.

"The last time the world saw Baltimore rise up this way it looked very different," Bridgeford told CNN earlier. "I loved that uprising. It was a blessing. It needed to happen. Pressure literally busts pipes. Now the world is able to see that Baltimore isn't just angry. Baltimore is strong and powerful and we're coming together."

'You are this movement'

The Baltimore church where Bridgeford delivered an emotional address Sunday -- the Kingdom Life Church -- posted her remarks on Facebook.

She spoke directly to the problems of violence in Baltimore, and directly to those most affected by that violence.

"We are in a dark place and we must be a light in those dark places," she said.

"If you see Baltimore's beauty in every corner of the crack houses; if you cry for Baltimore, if you are out here getting justice for Baltimore; if you turned Baltimore's bloodstained streets into sacred spaces; if you're still going to do the work in Baltimore after the media is long gone -- you are this movement."

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