Organizer: Baltimore ceasefire is a ‘movement’

(CNN)Hours after two gun deaths interrupted a 72-hour ceasefire in Baltimore, one of the organizers wrote 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, reading her message Sunday at The Kingdom Life Church. “Be in awe of how nothing stops us from healing our city. Just please know that you and your misguided it-ain’t-worked perception does not … speak for this movement.”
Some 40 hours after the ceasefire began, a 24-year-old man was fatally shot Saturday afternoon. Hours later, a 37-year-old died from gunshots at a local hospital, pushing the city’s homicide total to 210 — compared with 318 for all of last year, according to a tally by The Baltimore Sun.
    But Bridgeford and supporters viewed the grass-roots effort as a success — a start. Bridgeford said the city showed the world the power of unity. The air in Baltimore felt different, and the city went 41 hours without a killing, she said. She encouraged people to be voices of what she called a movement.
    Supporters also said the ceasefire sparked a conversation about ways to curb violence, and created momentum.
    “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’

    Bridgeford couldn’t be reached on Sunday.
    Before the ceasefire, Bridgeford and other community leaders hit the streets of West Baltimore urging drug dealers and gang members to put down their guns.
    Scheduled 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 move beyond the status quo and 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.

    Use your Light #BaltimoreCeasefire #BaltimorePeaceChallenge

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    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. “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.
    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. “And we’re going to continue down the path to hopefully get better and better.”
    Harris recalled hearing a police commander say he didn’t remember a Friday night without a shooting in his 26 years with the department.
    Saturday’s killings weren’t the only gun violence incidents. Baltimore police said a person was wounded in a different shooting.
    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 posted Bridgeford’s address on Facebook. She told the congregation she knew something about the “world looking at me like I’m a broken thing, like the world looks at Baltimore,” because she was born with one hand.
    She recalled having one of her “why me moments” in her 20s “about looking so broken and people thinking that I was broken.” Bridgeford said it dawned on her that she wasn’t other people’s perceptions — and she was God’s creation. And she heeded the words of her God-fearing grandmother.
    She encouraged others to be the light in dark places. “That’s who you are, not just me,” she said.
    “Baltimore,” she said, reading the thoughts she wrote on Sunday. She paused and took a breath.
    “If you see Baltimore’s beauty in every corner of the crack houses. If you cry for Baltimore,” Bridgeford said, getting choked up.
    She continued: “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. You are me. I am you.”

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