by Rebecca Nuttall and Ashley Johnson
North Side residents and other community stakeholders are breathing a little easier after the indictment of 26 gang members who called their neighborhood home. Although several of those brought up on charges were already serving jail time, many residents said they hope to see a reduction in crime and violence.
|PEACE MARCH—This march last year was one of many such efforts by the North Side communities to stop the violence. Hundred of people came out to show their support for peace in the neighborhoods.
“I’m hoping with these people off the streets, we’ll finally be able to start to feel safe in our own neighborhoods,” said Tracy Walker. “And hopefully others who are out there will get the message and stop all of the killing and violence.”
“I would say that it’s a good thing because it will take some criminals off the streets and it’s a start toward getting gang members off the streets and in jail,” said Timothy Smith.
None of those interviewed were against the arrests. However, TaRue Watson said enforcement of the RICO Act, a United States federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization, can have negative consequences.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m so glad to have most of those fools off the street. The problem with the RICO Act is everyone goes, even the innocent,” said Watson. “It was never set up to do what they are using it for in America. You leave killers and drug dealers on the streets till they gather enough info to put them away, in this case five years. How many of the North Side killings in 5 years can be directly related to these thugs.”
The Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime has taken on a similar task, to eradicate gangs and other criminal activity from Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods.
“We applaud the police for what they did,” said Jay Gilmer, PIRC Coordinator. “In some ways it will be very similar to what we do, but our emphasis is on trying to make the community message very clear. If the PIRC approach is done well, it will be more longer lasting.”
Pittsburgh community leaders are hopeful that the arrests of the gang members are a step in the right direction, but the work is not done.
“Hopefully and prayerfully we will see a change and residents can feel safer and better about coming out into the community,” said El Gray of One Vision One Life, a community based non-profit organization that works to reduce crime and violence by reaching into and working within the community. “There were some that were indicted that were already incarcerated. Hopefully we can reduce crime and take the streets back. This shows that law enforcement is taking a stand and that they mean business. “
Some community leaders had not heard or read about the incident, but still had their opinion on how this would affect the streets of the North Side and the residents of the community.
Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Mark Brentley said that he does not know much about the incident that occurred, but he is sure the residents of the North Side welcomed the arrests. And adds that he would like to think that most of the kids in our schools are not in gangs and that this incident shows that this is why it is important to have community activities, neighborhood schools and resources to make sure that kids are not falling into gang activity.
Like Brentley, Rev. Brenda J. Gregg, of Project Destiny and former pastor of Greater Allen AME Church on the North Side was unaware of the incident until she was contacted for comments. She said that these are our children and that jail is not the only answer.
“I think anytime you can take people who are threatening the community off the streets it is a good thing. But I do not think you ever get everyone off the streets,” Gregg said. “These are our children and we have to wonder where did things go wrong. We as churches, businesses and leaders need to get together and see what is the key to the problem. Just putting them in jail does not help. We need to rehabilitate and also identify if there are little gang members who are still in the neighborhood.”
Rev. Samuel W. Williams of New Zion Baptist Church on the North Side said “Gangs give children a false hope and that concerns me. They (Children) get this idea that old folks are just old and do not know anything and that the gang is their family. And that is just not true. “
While this is a victory, there still is a reminder that the war is not over and has not been completely won. Rev. Gregg discussed how 17-years-ago Pastors of the North Side came together with members of the gangs and had a dialogue to see where the issues were. She suggested this might be the next step that is needed to improving things.