Photo by Jaisal Noor

The most recent Baltimore Ceasefire wrapped up on Sunday night with a reading of the names of those lost this year to to murder and a plea for no more shootings. In front of City Hall, with tears in her eyes, Ceasefire youth ambassador Destini Philpot read out the name of another homicide victim.

“Meredeth Parry,” Philpot said. 

The few dozen who gathered, candles in hand, repeated the name—“Meredeth Parry.”

The group did this for the nearly 300 homicide victims Baltimore has endured this year. Meredeth Parry was 25 years old, shot and killed on the 900 block of Cator Avenue on May 31—the 126th homicide of the year. As of today, there have been 288 homicides in 2019.

The all-volunteer Baltimore Ceasefire, which since summer of 2017 has organized once per season and asks as always that, “Nobody Kill Anybody” for the duration of the weekend, holds cookouts and basketball tournaments and more to build community, offer recreation options, and display acts of love and compassion. Ceasefire also provides some of the framework for Baltimoreans to build skills, change their lives, and get involved through job trainings, record expungement sessions, and voter registration. 

In a city seemingly hell bent on taking so much from its poor and working-class residents while spending half-a-billion dollars on policing every year (as the murder rate remains among the nation’s highest) Ceasefire is a response from those most directly impacted—the next generation, represented by Baltimore Ceasefire youth ambassadors like Philpot.

“All the resources that we’re putting back into the community, it’s working, because you can’t look at violence and be like, ‘Well, hey, this is because they’re bad people.’ No, these are broken people in a broken city, in a broken society, in a broken system,” Philpot said. “It’s a recurring cycle of trauma that’s developed the violence in our city, and so we’re seeing a decrease in trauma and seeing a decrease in murder.”

“We just want to make the statement that murder does not have dominion over us as a city, and that we can come together and have a loving and peaceful environment, and just create that energy for the entire city,” fellow Ceasefire youth ambassador Olivia Koulish said.

Ceasefire doesn’t only build community, it is truly effective in reducing shootings and homicides. Data analyst Peter Phalen found in his recent study, “Modeling the Effect of Baltimore Ceasefire,” that the city sees anywhere from 30 percent to 66 percent fewer shootings during Ceasefire weekends—and that even accounts for seasonal trends in violence.

“Ceasefire is the people. It’s the citizens of Baltimore that makes the Ceasefire successful,” Philpot said. “So when I see that those numbers increased and that the murder rate is going down every Ceasefire weekend, you have to be able to applaud the people of Baltimore for taking the peace challenge and pledging to choose life over murder,” 

Phalen’s research also found that the impact can extend well after those three Ceasefire days are over, sometimes lowering the rate of gun violence for nearly two weeks. A “worst case scenario” reduction in shootings during Ceasefire, Phalen recently explained at The Real News Network’s Real Talk Tho event, is a one-third reduction, still an impressive reduction in and of itself.

“There are a lot of shootings in Baltimore, so the deaths that you hear about are about 30 percent of the shootings, so about 30 percent end in death. So when we hear about 300 homicides this year, that means there were like, 900 shootings, almost a thousand shootings—that’s a lot of shootings,” Phalen said. “So Ceasefire can be massively effective and there can still be shootings every day of Ceasefire, we’re talking about reductions here not zero-ing out the numbers.”

From the beginning of Ceasefire, the expectation of a murder during the event was ancipated by one of its key organizers, Erricka Bridgeford. “We would love it if nobody gets killed that weekend and ever, and we recognize this Ceasefire is not a cure for violence—which means somebody might get killed,” Bridgeford said back in 2017 before the first Ceasefire. 

As always, when someone is murdered during Ceasefire, that victim is honored by Bridgeford during Ceasefire. Over this past weekend, one life was lost. On Saturday, November 2, 24-year-old Daquan Chambers became Baltimore’s 286th homicide victim of 2019, shot and killed in a double shooting on the 1000 block of North Monroe Street.

Ceasefire’s youth ambassadors show that change is possible in a city often defined by hopelessness, and they have a simple demand for the city’s leaders and potential 2020 mayoral and city council candidates: Step up and address the root causes of violence.

“Candidates need to focus on attacking the roots of violence, especially in urban communities,” Koulish said. “Because we’re the communities that are often forgotten about in the gun violence conversation in general.” 

“How do you combat the root causes of violence like poverty and trauma and hyper-segregation?” Philpot said.

“Yeah, and putting money into our education system.” Koulish said.

“How do you combat the school to prison pipeline? What are you doing to put the future and the hope back into black and brown youth and urban communities?” Philpot asked our next mayor, whoever it might be.

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Additional reporting by Lisa Snowden-McCray and Brandon Soderberg.