We in Baltimore Yearly Meeting (BYM) have received many expressions of concern from Friends near and far about the civil unrest in Baltimore City over the past week and the events related to it. We deeply appreciate your prayers and take comfort in knowing we are part of a wider Quaker community that actively seeks peace, justice, and equality. Events have unfolded quickly. They are part of a long and complicated history that extends far beyond Baltimore. We would like to provide a brief update, knowing that we cannot possibly capture all there might be to say, and share just a few things we do know. And we want to thank you for your prayers.
Homewood and Stony Run are the two BYM Meetings within Baltimore City. Their Meeting Houses are not in the immediate area of the unrest. Still, on Monday, 4/27, the flames of that night’s fires were clearly visible from the historic Friends Burial Ground in east Baltimore in another neighborhood. Friends from Homewood and Stony Run and other nearby Meetings live in many different parts of the city. Several Baltimore Friends live in the immediate vicinity of the most affected neighborhoods. Many Baltimore Friends know and work with people who live in them. These are our neighbors and our neighborhoods. All were affected by the curfew, which has now been lifted.
Many Friends participated in peaceful demonstrations both before and after the looting, vandalism, and violence erupted. By Tuesday, 4/28, several Baltimore Friends were working with local groups in some of the affected neighborhoods, including cleanup efforts. Baltimore staff of the American Friends Service Committee have been actively involved in those neighborhoods and brought attention to community needs and deeper causes often overlooked in media reports. Last year, Friends from area Meetings helped start the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform (https://www.ma4jr.org/), which seeks changes in Maryland law affecting incarceration, some of which have already been enacted. There are many Friends whose ongoing social justice work has increased meaning and import during this time. For instance, a member of Sandy Spring Meeting serves as Deputy District Public Defender in Baltimore City. In that role, she has been involved in processing many of the cases of people arrested and has been quoted in the press about the circumstances of many of the arrests, the conditions arrestees faced, and continuing issues of injustice for those swept up by the police.
On May 1, over 30 Friends from at least six BYM Meetings and Friends Schools participated in a vigil at a busy intersection in front of Homewood’s Meeting House, sponsored by the Baltimore Quaker Peace and Justice Committee (a joint committee of Homewood and Stony Run – https://www.facebook.com/BQPJC). Signs included “Black lives matter, all lives matter.” One Friend approximated that 80 percent of those passing by gave a positive response. The vigil will continue again this Friday at 5pm.
After the vigil, the Committee sponsored a time of worship and sharing to listen to experiences of the past week and consider further responses. Stony Run’s co-clerk of the Committee, who is a retired Baltimore City police detective, spoke about her connections to and efforts in the Penn North neighborhood, both before and after the unrest, where some of the greatest unrest occurred. She also spoke of her efforts over many years urging the Baltimore City Police Department to engage in community policing and get to know the communities they are serving. We also heard of one Baltimore Friend’s direct encounter with the violence Monday night on her commute home. Friends will continue to season their leadings and share them as way opens. The Committee will meet again after this week’s vigil.
These are just a few of the ways Baltimore area Friends have been affected by and involved in the recent events here. They illustrate how we are all connected and all of us children of God. There is much we still do not know. There is much to do, not only here, but throughout our country and our world. These recent events reflect deep, complex, widespread, and long-standing issues of peace, justice, community, and equality. By all means, continue to pray for Friends and our neighbors in Baltimore. Please also continue to pray for guidance on how to address these same perplexing issues in your own communities. With God’s Grace, we can all make progress toward building a community of peace, justice, and love that embraces and nurtures the Light in us all.