A New Level of Outrage Brings Hope After a Violent Stretch

Justin Fenton, Baltimore Sun, July 8, 2013

An unusual thing happened as a series of shootings rocked Baltimore: People took notice, got organized and hit the streets to show their outrage.

In a city where the toll of violence is seldom met with palpable anger, a recent stretch that saw more than 40 shot and 16 killed touched off a series of anti-violence demonstrations that continued into Monday. Those behind the events included ministers and politicians, but also young professionals, fraternity members, a party promoter and longtime residents who are simply fed up.

“This tremendous stretch of crime has captured everyone’s minds and has been an igniter to wake people up,” said Lt. Col. Melvin Russell, a 34-year veteran who oversees the Police Department’s community partnership division. “You get a huge swelling of people coming to the table. It will fall off, but you will have a stronger nucleus than it was before.”

There are scores of community groups and activists who are regularly working to improve Baltimore, and many of those involved in the recent efforts say it is not their first time speaking out. But the recent violence has propelled activism to a level that has surprised even the most active advocates, who now wonder how the community can channel and maintain the energy.

On Monday, a group of ministers promised to take on a bigger role in violence prevention and activists held a peace rally and barbecue in East Baltimore. Recent days have seen a citywide prayer tour and calls for a 24-hour Baltimore “cease fire.”

The most visible example of the increased passion came Friday night, when organizers said 600 men walked the length of North Avenue and back—about 10 miles—to protest violence. {snip}

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The Rev. Willie Ray has been trying to galvanize residents for decades, including an annual event that sought to get people to link hands along the length of North Avenue—but which sometimes drew only a handful of participants.

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At the corner of Broadway and North Avenue, where Marques Dent sold snow cones for three summers as a child, the former Air Force captain threw a peace rally on Monday afternoon complete with a DJ, grilled hot dogs and drinks.

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Dent said the violence has shaken Baltimore because it seems to be on the uptick, with few answers as to why.

“People are upset—they’re upset with our law enforcement, they’re upset with our legislature, they’re upset with our community leaders,” he said. “People can’t be dropping like flies just because it’s hot outside.”

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Munir Bahar, a 32-year-old who owns a fitness facility on Washington Boulevard, has been inundated with phone calls and messages since Friday’s North Avenue march drew a larger-than-expected turnout, including a guest appearance by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. The event came together in about a week and exceeded the goal set in its title: the 300 Men March.

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