CORRECTION: The number of homicides and nonfatal shootings in Baltimore this year is down compared to this time last year. The story was incorrect on this point.
Late Saturday morning, patrol officers from the Baltimore Police Department’s Western District heard shots near West Lanvale Street and Wheeler Avenue, less than a mile from the district station. They soon found a 23-year-old man who had survived a gunshot wound. It marked the 532nd non-fatal shooting in the city this year.
About that time, two miles away, in a parking lot next to the State Center, some Baltimoreans were attempting to do something about gun violence in the city.
A few thousand people, many of them teenagers, convened for a day of solidarity led by We Our Us, a movement of men in Baltimore whose stated mission is to serve, using its words, as connectors, protectors, mediators and messengers, and to mobilize young men in particular to reduce conflict and increase prosperity.
Nonprofit organizations, churches, educators and politicians gathered on a windy, cloudy afternoon for food, music, speeches and a short peace march led by a drum corps and dancers, followed by King Teasdell, who carried a sign that read “Respect Cancels Regret,” inspired, he said, by a fatal police shooting in 2006.
“If both sides understood the need for respect, the shooting wouldn’t have happened,” Teasdell said.
Outreach groups such as the Nolita Project set up tents and tables around the perimeter of the parking lot, offering assistance for the things that generally move people ahead in life: education, employment, faith, nutrition, community and mental health.
The mayor’s office parked his Peace Mobile nearby. Mayor Brandon Scott, one of the day’s speakers, led call and response chants of:
“We all we got!”
“We all we need!”
But the mantra of the day, shouted regularly from the stage, was “peace in the city!”
One of the first speakers of the afternoon was activist and musician Young Elder, who is a senior at Coppin State University studying social work. She spoke about how gun violence leads to hopelessness among young Baltimoreans.
“We have to offer them a better option [than violence],” she said. “It’s not enough to say you need to get help; we have to bring the help to them.”
Elijah Miles, the chairman of the Tendea Family organization, spoke about a “counterfeit manhood” manufactured by popular culture and an environment of despair, and he challenged the crowd to rewrite the terms of what it means to be a true man, “not a killer, a robber or a drug dealer” but “a protector.”
“Your neighborhood needs you,” he said. Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen made the rounds in the parking lot, wearing a green hooded sweatshirt of the We Our Us movement.
“This is what it’s going to take,” Cohen said of the show of solidarity and community. “Just as a dad, it’s affirming to see everyone coming together to work together. This is what a united Baltimore looks like.”
By Friday morning, the Baltimore Police Department had recorded 222 homicides in the city this year, a number far below the 271 killings the city had recorded at this point last year. Similarly, the number of nonfatal shootings this year is lower than at this point last year.