Just a few days after the second 72-hour Baltimore Ceasefire weekend, which ran from Nov. 3-5, Erricka Bridgeford and I are sitting in her car in her old Rosemont neighborhood escaping the cold and rain.
She has a bit of a cough and she’s just off a speaking engagement at the Community College of Baltimore County’s Essex campus, but Bridgeford has gamely agreed to take a few moments to share her thoughts about the second ceasefire, meant to pause the violence in the city and connect with and create community.
“The ceasefire movement has made me become more actively spiritual in relation to death,” Bridgeford says. “I did not expect to be the person people call when their child gets killed. And they don’t want me to do nothing, just come and hug them ‘cause they feel like there is something about my energy.”
She has started doing something she calls pouring light into the concrete—going out and placing her body into the places around the city where someone has been killed. She started this during the first ceasefire when 24-year-old Lamontrey Tynes was found shot (he later died at Shock Trauma), and again when Washington, D.C. officer Tony Mason was killed on Nov. 4—the first homicide of the second ceasefire.
“We lost Tony Mason at 24.5 hours in,” reads a post on the Baltimore Ceasefire Instagram account. “People responded by showing up in the place where we lost Tony, and by pouring love into the murder spot and into the residents who live in that neighborhood.”
Bridgeford implores people not to be numb, to allow themselves to stop and feel the impact of each of the city’s murders and what the loss means for the city and for the family of the deceased. It’s part of a kind of spirituality that she says she’s been thinking about and building on for a while, but is just now able to really put into words.
“People really only accept spirituality if it’s said in a religious frame that they understand, so when you talk about Jesus’ blood making you not be sinful people are like ‘oh yes, yes, yes,’” she says. “But then when you say, ‘Well we have the power to pour light into the concrete,’ that sounds like devil work. People don’t like it.”
That spirituality is why she’s been able to tackle the seemingly impossible goal of stopping deaths in a city that has experienced over 300 murders this year. We shouldn’t just hope for miracles, Bridgeford says—we should expect them because we have the power to make them happen.
“All religious traditions teach that we’re made in God’s image in some kind of way, but then man’s doctrine gets in it and it makes us think we don’t have the same creative powers that God has,” she says. “So we keep limiting ourselves to what we can do in this earth.”
Knowing this, Bridgeford says that she must continue to challenge herself, and people in the city.
She decided to launch the first ceasefire because, despite her work with the group Community Mediation Maryland, she felt she wasn’t doing everything she possibly could do to stop violence in Baltimore. Now, with two ceasefire events under her belt, she’s still pushing herself to do more.
“This whole movement has made me stand in my power,” Bridgeford says. “I can’t ask other people to look at murder in this more spiritual, public health kind of way if I’m not willing to not just do outreach on drug corners in the west, I gotta go over east in those drug markets and hop out my car too. Because they’re still people and they got spirits.”
Speaking of what this looks like when she reaches out to others, she talks about harnessing the positive power of Baltimore City’s ego. People here are quick to challenge somebody who is trying to overstep their personal boundaries, she observes, but are less aggressive in combating systemic problems that go deeper than face-to-face conflict.
“We don’t remember that kind of swag as when it comes to social issues,” Bridgeford says. “What has happened to us for so long, we don’t notice that they trying to bitch us. If we looked at it like, ‘They say we got to live over here, we gotta live in these conditions, we can’t have good food, our schools gotta be bullshit?’”
That’s why the ceasefire had to be community-driven.
“If the police had said there was a ceasefire, people would have been like, ‘You not gon’ tell me what to do.’ Had the mayor said it they’d be like, ‘She not gon’ tell us how to live,’” she says.
Because it was the community’s own thing, done of their own volition, more became involved.
Since the beginning, Bridgeford has maintained that the ceasefire events weren’t just about stopping murders. She’s been clear about the societal and structural forces that keep violence going—changing those, she’s said, isn’t something that can happen overnight.
But the ceasefire has created a shift in the energy of the city. Leading up to both events, Baltimore Ceasefire signs could been seen in shops all over. People here took the impetus and ran with it—organizing marches, food giveaways, and more. Eager community members packed the room at a post-ceasefire event held in August. All of this has happened with Bridgeford at the center, as the movement’s most public organizer. She says she’s coming to terms with her more public position, and the negativity it can open her up to. For example, there are people who will never believe that Baltimore is anything but a haven for uncivilized, murderous black savages. For them, Bridgeford can be a target for their derision and hate.
“I have learned to show up in my wholeness, being a black girl from this neighborhood with one hand,” she says. “Every hard thing that I’ve been through has prepared me for this. Ever since I was born, people have been looking at me like I’m broken, thinking that I’m not as good as them, thinking that I’m something to pity.”
She gets scared a lot. She also gets angry. It’s a process, she explains, to walk away from anger and into peace and compassion.
“It’s so many people, I think, need to be punched in their face,” she says, but adds that she pushes herself to move past that feeling. “It takes me a minute to come to, because we are socialized to think that love is weak. We don’t understand that love really don’t take much shit. In real life, it really does not because it is honest and it’s transparent and it is long-suffering and it’s strong as fuck, so love is really not the one to come for. But we don’t view it that way so it takes me a minute to find something that would be a God-like response.”
She says she never reads the comments on stories written about her or the ceasefire. She also remembers that if people are coming for her, it’s because the work she is doing is successful.
“It makes me remember, well, when they thought I wasn’t doing nothing they ain’t pay me no mind,” she says. “It must be now that I’m a big enough target. I must be doing something so big that now they can just hit it from anywhere in the city if they want to because you can see it everywhere now.”
Bridgeford says that ceasefire events will happen quarterly, and the next one is scheduled for February. Her goal is to for everyone in the city to be aware when a ceasefire is going on.
Bridgeford imagines a day where ceasefire events are ingrained in everyone’s minds, but at the same time she’s realistic about what she can accomplish.
“I’m really aware that the next time, four people might get killed,” she says. “I understand how things go up and down, and at the same time, I know that there will come a time where this is an institution in Baltimore and it is seen as something that is sacred. It’ll start to seep out into the days before the ceasefire and after the ceasefire because that’s just what light does. It just starts seeping out into everything that is around it.”