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As murders spike nationwide, one city is trying to create peace, turning to its librarians for help

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Posted at 2:16 PM, Aug 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-26 17:16:59-04

In some places, it can be easy to think a crime scene is just a part of life.

“When you just look at the murders, you can problematize people. You can problematize Baltimoreans, and you can ignore this entire system that is causing this number that you see," said Erricka Bridgeford.

But in cities that have long dealt with the issue of violence, the type of loss felt a crime scene fuels those working for change.

"In 2004, my little cousin's father got murdered, so it just kept happening and I was like, OK, I need to do something," said Jakia Jones.

Jones works with Bridgeford, who is the founder of Baltimore Ceasefire 365.

The group organizes citywide ceasefires in hopes of stopping the violence Baltimore has come to know all too well.

“The idea of using collective consciousness to just raise Baltimore’s vibration," Bridgeford explained.

The cause of crime is complicated, to say the least.

“Joblessness, homelessness, food insecurity, and education," Bridgeford listed. "All the things are prevalent in Black and brown communities, which tells you there is a system in place that is violently attacking a particular group of people and making these kinds of things show up in cities all across America.”

Bridgeford believes at least part of the answer to stopping violence can be found in places like Baltimore's Community Mediation Center.

“People can really come and talk about anything, so neighbor dispute, landlord-tenant, baby momma drama," Bridgeford said.

The Mediation Center is a safe space for people to speak their minds.

“There’s this myth that oh in Baltimore, all the violence is happening because of drugs, so I was looking at this research that really showed reason that people end up getting killed, and drug disputes is definitely a part of it, but by and large, most of it is misunderstandings in conflicts that people couldn’t resolve," Bridgeford said.

“It’s not a big city problem. It’s not a red or blue problem. It really is an American problem," said crime data analyst Jeff Asher.

Across the country, crime is down overall in the pandemic with offenses like shoplifting and burglary happening less often, but when Asher and his company AH Datalytics looked at preliminary crime data from more than 70 cities nationwide, he saw a darker reality.

“Last year, we had an enormous increase in murder, that somewhere likely 25 to 30 percent or higher, likely the largest increase in order we have ever seen," Asher said.

2021 could be even worse. As of August, murders are up more than 12 percent on top of 2020's rise.

“Racism is already an epidemic. Oppression is already an epidemic. Violence has already been an epidemic, and so when you put a global pandemic on top of those things, absolutely," said Bridgeford of the rise in homicides nationwide.

Baltimore is now trying to take a different approach to prevent violence in the city.

“Too often we’ve tried to police our way out of our problems, and we see that simply does not work," said Baltimore City Council member Zeke Cohen.

Cohen is helping lead a first-of-its-kind effort to change the thinking around violence by having city employees go through training sessions to learn skills like de-escalation tactics. The first city group to start the training is the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

“Librarians are at their heart. People who want to connect people to information, access, and resources," said Heidi Daniel, CEO of Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library.

City librarians are going through special training to understand the trauma of those who may come into their libraries and are struggling with issues that can lead to crime.

“I think that the more that we can build their tool kit and capacity to respond appropriately to situations that arise in our community, the better partner we are the city to reduce crime and other issues," Daniel said.

The goal is to train all city employees in Baltimore, with the hopes, other cities can take the same approach.

“We’re acknowledging what happened to people is wrong, it’s abnormal. We need to be able to discuss it and we need to give folks the tools the vocabulary and language to heal," Cohen said.

The efforts are what he and others, like Bridgeford, are working for, finding peaceful ways to solve a problem Baltimore has long grappled with.