By Renee Lewis / Al Jazeera America / July 26, 2013
Dozens of men wearing black t-shirts marched in Baltimore Friday night against escalating gun violence throughout the city, following the success of an earlier showing of 600 men in July.
The 300 Men March was organized by Munir Bahar, executive director of COR Fitness, and Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott, 2nd district.
“In the past it’s always been about what the police and City Hall are going to do,” Scott told the Baltimore Sun. “It’s not just about what they’re going to do, it’s absolutely about what we’re going to do.”
Friday’s march, while significantly smaller than the previous one, was more focused. They limited participants to those who had completed a conflict-resolution training program and spent more time engaging with youth.
Bahar told Al Jazeera that the march was an effort to engage directly with young people on the corners of East Baltimore.
The goal of the march is to increase the presence of able-bodied men in Baltimore’s neighborhoods, “collectively sending a message of peace and nonviolence,” the organization’s website read.
Participants distributed fliers that outlined a “code of honor” for resolving conflicts and avoiding violence to people they met along the march – asking them to share the information with the men in their lives.
According to the Baltimore Sun, in the last two weeks of June 2013, a “tidal wave of violence” shook the city – with about 40 people being shot and 16 killed.
The first 300 Men March took place on July 5.
“I realized that men needed to step up,” Bahar said. “More men needed to be seen in the streets because men specifically are important in the discipline of young folks.”
The aim of the march is to personally engage youth they meet in the streets and show them an alternative to violence.
“We’re going to be stopping and handing out flyers,” Bahar said. “It’s about engaging the guys out on the street corners on a Friday night.”
The march is only open to men age 16 and older “for symbolic reasons,” Bahar told Al Jazeera. Still, women supported the previous march by handing out water and seeing the men off.
“When there is an absence of men, you get unguided and unbalanced youth,” Bahar said. “That’s why the march is only men; it’s the most symbolic part of the movement.”
‘Crisis level’ violence
A grassroots effort, the 300 Men March was driven in response to escalating shootings and killings in some of Baltimore’s most violent neighborhoods.
After the latest bout of violent homicides in June, City Councilman Nick Mosby told the Baltimore Sun, “We are at crisis level. It’s not going to get better with business-as-usual procedures.”
Though Baltimore’s homicide and gun violence rates had declined in recent years, 2012 saw a 10 percent increase in homicides.
WBALTV, a local Baltimore TV channel, reported that there were 217 murders in the city in 2012. Police officials say that’s 20 more than were recorded in 2011.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said he blames two rival gangs for the spike in deadly crime.
“The only reason we have a spike that took place in our homicides overall this year is because we had two individual cases of gang violence that took place,” Batts told WBALTV.
At the midpoint of 2013, the number of homicides –117 – is the highest in six years. But Bahar and other march participants are not ready to give up.
“Most people stereotype these kids out on the streets as killers. That may be true of one or two of them, but I’m not going to let the actions of a few become an overarching theme,” Bahar said.
“They need hugs too, we’re bringing love to the neighborhood and we expect a positive response from the young guys. Everything so far has been positive.”
Baltimore is ranked sixth for number of per-capita murders in the country among cities with 100,000 people or more, according to data submitted by U.S. cities and released by the FBI in June last month.
It ranks behind Flint, Detroit, New Orleans, Jackson and St. Louis, respectively.