The misery and hope of the city of Baltimore are on display at the corner where 40-year-old Levar Bailey was shot dead.
As part of a ‘Ceasefire’ weekend that began on Friday, activists marched to the Park Avenue corner and other sites in Baltimore’s downtown to remember victims of violence in a city with one of the highest murder rates in the US.
“Bestow your healing touch upon this city,” the crowd of about 100 said in unison, praying in front of a park near where Bailey was murdered in November 2017.
That was the year of the first Ceasefire — an event held every three months that seeks to stand up to violence, create awareness, and strengthen community bonds with the ultimate goal of ending murder.
“So many have died, and so little has been said,” Bob Hoch, of First and Franklin Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, says through a megaphone on Park Avenue across from a building daubed with graffiti.
Most of the marchers — a mix of black and white faces — wore blue T-shirts with the logo of the Presbyterian Church USA.
A man leaning on a metal crutch clunks past them on the road.
The activists continue their “peace walk”, past a man lying motionless on the sidewalk across from buildings with a sign up outside them that says: “Now leasing: 1-2-3 bedroom apartments.”
Some marchers tie small purple ribbons on a fence above the motionless man.
His mouth is open and a bottle of liquid pokes out from the back pocket of his jeans.
The marchers turn onto another street to remember Dwight Taylor, 25, shot dead in a barber shop in April 2011.
Men hang out on the busy street, which is lined with small retailers.
Although more than 300 have been killed each year in Baltimore since 2015, activists say they are making a difference.
“This may be a small step, but it’s a positive step,” Keith Paige, pastor of Baltimore’s Cherry Hill Community Presbyterian Church, told AFP, sweat glistening on his forehead in the humid evening air.
The activists are “putting a face on violence, letting people know that we are not statistics,” Paige said.
He stops to help a stranger who has fallen into the street after a screaming match with a woman outside a shop.
Gary Wheeler, 35, stood outside Baltimore Celebrity Cutz, the barber shop where he has worked for the past decade, and praised the activists who had stopped there for more prayers.
“I think they need a lot more of this than just down here,” he said.
Wheeler said he hadn’t seen “too much” trouble near his workplace but in West Baltimore, where he lives with his family, “it’s rough right now.”
Baltimore Police said three men were shot and wounded in separate incidents on Friday.
Along with the peace walk, the Ceasefire weekend includes the installation of peace flags and posters, neighbourhood festivals, musicians spreading “a message of love,” and worship in honour of victims and their families.
The prayer group continued their walk around the city centre, past a theatre advertising Cats and Miss Saigon, until they met Phyllis Felton, pastor of Baltimore’s Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, waiting for them in a park.
“God, I’m sick of praying after gun violence. I’m sick of praying for this won’t happen again. But I know it will,” Felton told the marchers, who held up signs saying: “Nobody kill anybody. Baltimore Ceasefire.”
Felton and other activists cite many reasons for the violence: Poverty, racism, family and community breakdown, frustration, and the easy availability of guns.
The Maryland city has more than 620,000 residents.
More than one in five live in poverty, almost double the national rate.
This month’s Ceasefire caps a week in which US President Donald Trump sparked accusations of racism with his comments attacking Baltimore over its crime and other problems.
But J Herbert Nelson, who heads the Presbyterian Church USA, said Baltimore is not unique in a country where firearms killed nearly 40,000 people in 2017.
“This entire country, actually, is the very word that he called Baltimore because this is the culture in which we live throughout the United States of America, and I’m convinced if this continues as it is, no one is going to be safe,” Nelson said.