'Nobody's family got a phone call': Baltimore goes 11 days without a homicide
On Feb. 2, something unusual happened in Baltimore. Rather, something didn't happen. No one was killed that day, or the days after that.
The shooting death of a 22-year-old man on Tuesday afternoon ended what turned out to be a peaceful stretch of over 11 full days without recording a single homicide. That's the longest streak since 2014.
Local activist Erricka Bridgeford has been organizing community ceasefire weekends. She spoke to As It Happens guest host Gillian Findlay about the latest homicide streak and about how it ended.
Miss Bradford, the ceasefire held from Feb. 2, first for a weekend, and then day after day and eventually for 11 days. As you saw the days rack up, how did you feel?
It was very exciting to see, just to know that nobody's family got a phone call that they lost somebody to violence. Traumatized people were not planning funerals this week. It really gave the city a sense of hope. A lot of people had given up on Baltimore, you know. So we really gave people a sense of hope and renewed self-esteem. Someone was killed yesterday. I know that there was a [second] shooting last night but we found out this morning that that person died as well. So two people died yesterday.
What are these ceasefire weekends, as they're called?
It's called a ceasefire just so that people get the message that we don't want anybody to kill anybody else. But it's really not just about gun violence. It's about all violence, and it is in two parts: not being violent and also celebrating life. And so this is why you will find over 35 events happening all over the city – all free events that affirm life and give people resources that they need [to] build community, that sort of thing.
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What kind of events?
All kinds of events – everything from people celebrating survivors and people who have been killed in domestic violence by making art and quilts, family events with huge moon bounces and barbecues ... There have [also] been overnight resources that have had well over 200 people get their [criminal] records expunged. A lot of times people have charges on their record that are nonviolent offences. They just need to be expunged and removed from the record. And it gives them a better shot, an opportunity in life, because they don't have that thing on their record anymore.
[According to the Baltimore Sun, recently introduced state laws in Maryland allow citizens to clear minor, nonviolent charges from their public records. Officials said it will give them a better chance at finding future employment.]
People are not savages in Baltimore. People want opportunity. People want love and light in their life.- Erricka Bridgeford
And who are you targeting with these [events], and why do they work?
It's a fallacy to just try and target one demographic. America is a very violent place. It sees a violent culture. So we're targeting everybody in the city.
Why do they work, do you think?
I think it's because people's humanity still exists. So while Baltimore has its challenges, people are not savages in Baltimore. People want opportunity. People want love and light in their life. And so to see the city do something together in this way, it shows the rest of the world how much love Baltimore has. We know that we have a lot of love for our city and for our own lives. But this gave everybody an opportunity to say it all together in one voice.
The population of Baltimore, I understand, is just over 600,000 people. Last year the city set a new record for homicides: 343 deaths. Why is the homicide rate so high?
So we're not going to talk about Baltimore as if it is some anomaly in America. You have to understand that homicide is a public health issue. And so in a system that is built within oppression...in order for the system to survive some people have to be at the bottom of it, it creates people living in criminal conditions — which means that it creates criminality. And so places where you see a lot of oppression, you're going to see violence.
But if those are the root causes of violence, and I think you know people understand that this is a complicated thing —
I disagree. I don't think people understand that, because if they did it wouldn't be a question that people keep asking. The very question 'Why is there so much violence?' means that people really don't understand it.
You've had several of these so far. This ceasefire regrettably has now ended. When do you start again?
So the next ceasefire is Mother's Day weekend. They have been quarterly so the next one is May. And then in August will be the one-year anniversary, so we're really excited about that.
Also ... I don't want it to be mistaken that this one ceasefire movement got Baltimore 11 days without murder. That would be a preposterous thing to say. It's been the work that people have been putting in for years in Baltimore that's starting to pay off. So this movement added to that, and it ignited a fire that everybody could see at the same time. But we would not have gotten 11 days straight if it was only this one thing that motivated the city.
Baltimore is a place where people are doing the work to heal the injustices all the time, and so it's beautiful that everybody got to see it manifest in an 11-day stretch.
This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview with Erricka Bridgeford with the 'Listen' link above.