Intensity carries the rally

Anti-homicide gathering in downtown Baltimore features a lot of emotion, despite the lack of participants

October 29, 2007|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN REPORTER

It was to be a "historic lie-in event," organizers promised, with enough people to represent Baltimore's homicide victims, 246 so far this year. They were to dress in identical "No More Murders" T-shirts and sprawl on the plaza in front of City Hall.

But closer to 175 people were there yesterday. The ground was soaked from rain, so they stood, holding papers bearing the numbers. Organizers had abandoned the T-shirt idea last week, fearing that not enough people would be there to wear them.

Elected officials were invited; none came. College students were invited; there were few young faces.

"Apathy, alienation and cynicism have taken root in our community - But we believe that these weeds can be removed before they spread further," reads the Web site for Justice Maryland, the group that planned the event.

Asked whether yesterday's attendance shortfall was evidence of the very issue she was trying to combat, Kimberly Haven, executive director of Justice Maryland, said, "We don't know why people didn't come.

"I am not choosing to look at the lack of turnout. What I am looking at is the people who did rise up and want to be a part of moving forward. To me, that is the victory."

As they stood for two hours facing a darkened City Hall, attendees were moved to tears by the heartfelt speeches and raw emotions of mothers who had lost children. A little girl with beads in her hair held an orange poster that read, "I miss you daddy."

Chantel Clea, chairwoman of the Baltimore City Youth Commission, one of the event's sponsors, cried as she addressed the group. She told them that she, too, had lost loved ones, including her favorite cousin and a close family friend.

"Don't just hold that number like it's a number," she said, her voice catching. "It's a life. That could be you."

The event was called "No More Murders," and Haven said she planned it for six weeks. It was to take place from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on the War Memorial Plaza.

She said she sent out more than 3,000 printed fliers and scores of e-mails, including to students at Morgan State, Sojourner-Douglass and Towson University. She said she sent letters and e-mails inviting elected officials, including the mayor, City Council, city delegation and others.

Mayor Sheila Dixon, City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III each informed Havens of prior commitments.

Dixon spokesman Anthony McCarthy said the mayor had 13 activities planned for yesterday, all in the city.

Bealefeld was likely visiting church services throughout the city, his spokesman said, and Rawlings-Blake was out of town, Haven said she was told.

Despite news coverage before yesterday and the efforts Haven described, many said they were unaware of the event. Some city employees who attended said the group was well-meaning but could have been better organized. The permit for the event wasn't submitted until Friday.

Justice Maryland bills itself as a statewide criminal justice advocacy organization. Its Web site indicates it focuses on "a fair and equitable system of law" and the transition of ex-convicts back into their communities.

Haven said she chose Sunday rather than a weekday because she thought it would be more convenient for the attendees.

"We weren't trying to attract passers-by," Haven said, explaining the event's timing and location. "If we wanted that, we would have chosen the Inner Harbor."

In an earlier interview with The Sun, she said the lie-in on War Memorial Plaza was "a way for people to see it, to feel it, to experience it."

Just before 2 p.m., Haven said she would delay the start "to give more people a chance to arrive." About 2:15 p.m., organizers passed out the numbered papers to those who had gathered, including Guardian Angels, community activists, and men and women wearing T-shirts memorializing their slain relatives.

One by one, Haven read the names of this year's victims, a roster that took about 10 minutes to complete. Afterward, speakers such as Carl O. Snowden, head of the Maryland attorney general's office of civil rights, and Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, head of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, urged community activism.

The message of the speakers - and of the event - overwhelmed a mother whose son was fatally shot Jan. 20.

About halfway through, Sharron Jackson broke into wracking sobs. "My only boy, my only son," she wept, as women nearby rushed to console her. "I want somebody to tell me why, why they took my son."

Someone got her a chair. Someone covered her T-shirt, on it a picture of a smiling Anton D. Jones, with a jacket. Someone softly sang to her and rubbed her back.

Later, Jackson gathered herself and walked away feeling that it was time to get involved. "I know Anton would want me to," she said.

And that was the point, organizers said, of yesterday's event. It was to personalize the 246 men, women and children killed this year in the city and to be an inspiration for people to become active in their communities.

Sun reporters Liz F. Kay and John Fritze contributed to this article.

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