Baltimore Man Starts Hunger Strike to End Violence, City’s Addiction to Policing

City resident Kevin McCamant says he will not eat until the killings stop and the city emphasizes methods other than policing to cure violence

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Story Transcript

Stephen Janis: This is Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. It is another year of record homicides in Baltimore, and what that usually means to City Hall is more cops, more police and more jails, but one man is trying to change that dialog and stop the killing, and what he’s using is a fast.

There are few traces of the typical media presence that accompanies press conferences about violence in this vacant lot in East Baltimore Monday. Perhaps that’s because the topic on the agenda has little to do with cops, jails and the usual litany of law enforcement attitudes. Or maybe because it wasn’t held at City Hall or police headquarters or even in Annapolis, where Mayor Catherine Pugh was meeting with Governor Larry Hogan to address a recent surge in murders.

Instead, a plea for peace came from a single man sitting under a tent in Baltimore’s Rose Street neighborhood in the form of a hunger strike. His name is Kevin McCaman. He’s a Buddhist and former prison psychologist who has been working with the community to stop violence through mediation for years.

Kevin McCaman: The number of homicides from my calculation this morning, a person has been killed every 25 hours and 20 minutes since January first of this year, and that’s just horrendous.

Stephen Janis: The record pace of killings this year has taken its toll on him, but two weeks ago, one murder brought him to the precipice of making a momentous decision.

Kevin McCaman: I had mentioned that I had two people that I know, one who was killed, one who was severely wounded, but the thing that really pushed me was when Charmaine Wilson was killed in front of her kids. That kind of horror takes things to a whole new level.

Stephen Janis: Which is why this day he’s making a pledge to not eat until the violence subsides.

Kevin McCaman: What I’m looking to do is to move the needle on these homicides. We’ve had, like I said, by my calculations this morning, a homicide every 25 hours and 20 minutes, and I want to push that back to a homicide every 48 hours. If somebody does decide that they’re not going to take a life, I would like them to come down here and tell me, so that I can personally thank them. I just am trying to reach out and touch the hearts of those people to get them to call a halt, even if it’s a temporary halt, and then engage in some summit negotiations with one another to figure out a different way. There are alternatives. There are options. There are different ways that these beefs or retaliations, whatever the issue is, can be resolved without taking somebody’s life.

Stephen Janis: It’s a fast to engender peace that is not solely aimed at the mayhem on the streets, but also changing the dialog that is often predicated on the premise that aggressive police tactics can solve the problem.

Kevin McCaman: I’m going on this fast because it’s the only thing I can think of to do to say, “The lives of the people who are getting killed, right? The lives of the shooters are worth it to me to put my life on the line, to get some reconsideration of this way of dealing with them.”

Stephen Janis: It’s a philosophy he has put into practice. The Rose Street community has been implementing a cure violence model for years, a strategy using mediation to prevent conflicts that often lead to shootings. “It’s an idea that has worked,” says Danny Webster from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health “and should be expanded.”

Kevin McCaman: Our most recent analysis, that looks at data through 2016, when we average the effects over all those different sites, our estimate is about a 27% reduction in shootings compared to a similar areas that did not have the program. So that’s very encouraging.

Stephen Janis: Which is why Kevin has vowed to go without eating until something changes, a decision that has unknown consequences for him, but a stand he says he must make to address the pain of a community too often overlooked. How far are you willing to take this? I mean how far are you willing to go?

Kevin McCaman: I guess I’m willing to go as far as it takes. I mean I’m trying not to think about that too much.

Stephen Janis: I totally understand.

Kevin McCaman: But I’m not playing around here. I’m not playing around here.

Stephen Janis: This is Stephen Janis and Taya Graham reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore.