60 men take part in walk against violence

They talk to people in neighborhoods and pass out fliers for resolving conflicts

  • Munir Bahar addresses a group, which will march to stop violence in the city, this time with a focus on talking to people in neighborhoods who are not involved with the activity. Shown is the gathering at the Old Town Mall.
Munir Bahar addresses a group, which will march to stop violence… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
July 26, 2013|By John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun

They walked past the vacant, shuttered storefronts in Old Town Mall — past the faded signs for Old Towne Pharmacy and Ayrdale Variety. They walked through a basketball game on North Bond Street, meeting with surprised faces as the players broke it up to talk.

And then the group of about 60 men wearing black T-shirts — who organized their walk Friday night in an effort to do something about violence in Baltimore — walked up to Dominic Inman. The 39-year-old was standing in a walled-in back porch when he saw the group approach.

One of the advocates pressed a flier, which laid out a "code of honor" for resolving conflicts and avoiding violence, into his hand and told him to give it to the men in his family.

"It definitely made a statement. The first thing I seen was like, whoa, what's going on?" Inman said after the anti-violence activists had walked on. "Once I found out it was something positive, something that needs to be addressed, yeah, I'm with it."

Three weeks after organizers caught the attention of city leaders and residents with a 300 Man March to protest a series of shootings this summer, the group embarked on a second push into the city Friday. This time they marched with a much smaller crowd of men who spent more time talking with the people they met along the way.

The event, like the march on July 5, was organic, promoted through social media and word of mouth and largely unaffiliated with the traditional government and religious institutions that have tried for decades to deal with the city's violence through community outreach.

The original 10-mile march along North Avenue was expected to bring out 300 men. Those who took part said more than double that number showed. They were cheered by women who lined the street along their path and the effort led to other community rallies and prayer tours in the city.

Organizers stressed that Friday's event wasn't a march at all but rather an effort to engage directly with young people on the corners of East Baltimore. They limited participants to those who had taken part in a training program. They eschewed media coverage and police escorts — though Baltimore police appeared to be eyeing the group from a distance.

And while Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts took part in the first march, Friday's walk was designed with less high-profile participants in mind.

"We are the pioneers. We are pioneering something," Munir Bahar, who owns a fitness facility on Washington Boulevard and is a main organizer of the group, told the men. "We are doing something unexpected."

Organizers said that while the approach of Friday's event was different than the march, the take-away should be the same: a display of grass roots activism in a city that for years had grown numb to crime.

"In the past it's always been about what the police and City Hall are going to do," said City Councilman Brandon Scott, who has also organized the effort and who walked with the men Friday. "It's not just about what they're going to do, it's absolutely about what we're going to do."

Their effort comes in response to a particularly violent summer. As of July 20, the most recent crime statistics available, homicides are up 13 percent compared with the same time last year while non-fatal shootings are up 10 percent.

Violent crime overall is down 5 percent from last year, driven largely by a decline in aggravated assaults.

Those involved with the events said people traditionally don't engage in anti-violence activism until a family member or friend is affected. But the level of interest this summer at vigils, marches and community barbecues has surprised longtime advocates and sparked a discussion about how to maintain the momentum.

"Y'all need to come to this neighborhood a lot," a woman sitting on her front steps called out as the men walked by.

"We'll be back," one of them responded.

Del. Keiffer Mitchell Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, took part in the July 5 march spontaneously after hearing a story about it on the evening news. He said he saw young men come off the street and join in, including one who wound up walking alongside him.

"I asked him, 'Why did you walk?' and he said he felt like it was something he needed to do," Mitchell said of the young man. "There's a dialogue going on that I find pretty powerful."

The conversation continued Friday as Bahar approached a man named Cedric Yarborough near Johns Hopkins Hospital, handing him a flier and telling him they were fighting to take the streets back.

"It's always better to be positive than negative," the 41-year-old Yarborough said after the encounter. "It starts with us."

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.



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