As their community grapples with an alarming rise in homicides, most of them shootings, anti-violence activists from Baltimore marched forty miles overnight Sunday to the White House to raise awareness and funding for a plan to stop it.
Munir Bahar, founder of the 300 Men March group, says his group’s mission is to steer Baltimore’s youth away from crime. So far this year, there have been 208 homicides, according to the Baltimore Sun’s tally, a more than 60 percent increase over the same period last year, police statistics show.
Bahar, speaking as he caught his breath, posted a video to Facebook shortly after arriving in Washington, near the end of the 20 hour trek. “Feet hurting, but we’re still pushing,” Bahar said, in the 94 degree heat. By Monday afternoon, the group had reached the National Mall in Washington, each of them wearing a shirt that read, “We must stop killing each other.”
The march coincides with the release of the 300 Men March’s Emergency Operating Plan on Saturday. The organization wants to start five new community centers dedicated to stopping youth from engaging in crime or violence.
What the group calls “Street Engagement Units” will try to stop violence before its starts by speaking to at-risk youth and offering them jobs and educational opportunities. The anti-violence group says it has employed the same techniques with success in one Baltimore neighborhood — Belair-Edison on the city’s northeast side.
DeLacy Davis, a community policing advocate and retired cop who heads the National Law Enforcement Officers for Justice, Reform and Accountability, said that for any anti-violence plan to work, outreach has to come from members of the community, which is overwhelmingly African-American. "They need to look like the kids in the community. We need people that work in the community and look like the community," Davis said.
The hubs of the effort by 300 Men March will serve five Baltimore neighborhoods that have been most affected by gun violence: Madison/East End; Midway/Coldstream; Greater Mondawmin; Greenmount East; and Penn North, the intersection of Pennsylvania and North Avenues. The group estimates that it would need about about $1.7 million dollars to fund all five centers for one year.
Penn North was the site of unrest in April after the death Freddie Gray, a black man who died in the custody of Baltimore police. The officers involved face charges, including second-degree murder in one case, over the incident.
After the unrest, arrests in the city plummeted, and the city's homicide rate spiked. Statistics show a sharp decrease in the number of arrests since Gray’s death. City data show the trend has continued through the summer.
The organizers of the 300 Men March say they are doing what the police cannot. “We’re out there talking to the community, not locking people up,” said Sean Stinnett, a spokesman for the group.
City officials said May saw the highest rate of killings the city had suffered in 40 years, the Sun reported.