No vigil for vigils

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Last summer, Allegheny County’s One Vision One Life anti-violence program was restructured following a RAND Corp. evaluation to become a key component of the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime.

As a result PIRC and the community have received the benefits of One Vision’s street-level intelligence, outreach and intervention work. Comprised of former gang members, the program’s outreach workers have the unique ability to intervene in turf battles, disputes and gang interactions, and diffuse them before they result in homicides and shootings.

dixon
VALERIE DIXON

When homicides did occur, the outreach continued in the form of vigils for the slain victims the program organized. Designed to bring families and communities together to help heal wounds and prevent future killings, the vigils served to give families voices and put faces on the victims—and sometimes their killers—who might otherwise be just more statistics.

But in its new role as part of PIRC, One Vision no longer conducts vigils. That part of its program was discontinued because PIRC administrators said it detracted from the direct intervention and prevention work One Vision is uniquely suited to do, and which is a critical component of PIRC’s attempt to stop gun violence.

Representatives from One Vision did not return calls for comment by Courier deadline on the absence of One Vision organizing vigils, or the lack of other community organizations filling the void.

Rev. Glenn Grayson, pastor at Wesley Center AMEZ Church and gun-violence co-chair for Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network, lost his son to gun violence last October and said each family chooses to deal with such a loss differently.

Any group that would take on holding vigils for all the victims of gun violence, he said, would first have to have the capacity to do it—and then, not every family might agree.

“It’s bittersweet, the remembering and reflection is important. My son’s birthday is April 27. He would have been 19, so it’s been six months for us this week,” he said. “How does each family deal with it? They try to adjust, but not all families are ready for that kind of buy-in. It’s a tough call. There is no perfect solution.”

Valerie Dixon, co-chair of the Coalition Against Violence, said the vigils are a Catch-22 because while they can provide an outlet for families, they do little else without an ongoing message.

“It’s both good and bad. It’s an outlet, and sometimes it flushes people out, but there has to be a purpose beyond exposing a family’s grief and loss,” she said. “Joining initiatives, getting the community together, you want something that is sustaining.”

Even if vigils work and help a few people get out of the gang life, you never hear those stories, she said.

“You can’t grab data on that and turn it into funding, and without a purpose, people get despondent with the vigils,” she said. “But still, people need to know this is not normal. It’s not normal to be burying children every week.”

While neither Grayson nor Dixon is scheduling vigils, both will be among those marching from Freedom Corner to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on April 30 to confront the National Rifle Association as it begins its national convention.

PIRC Director Jay Gilmer said it’s hard to quantify what One Vision does, but all community involvement has value.

“Of course the vigils have value, they are helping people,” he said. “But are they stopping additional killings? That’s another question. Vigils alone won’t stop it, just like police work alone won’t stop it. It’s the cooperation between the police, the community and the service providers that’s the key to the PIRC model.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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