Pictures of smiling teens who will never grow older—Shavaughn Kierra White, 18 when killed in 2009, Jayla Shanee Brown 19 when killed in 2007—they were just two of the faces on posters stretching the block-long lobby of the City County Building.
Even as passersby saw the displays and read the adoring biographies, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of young Black men and women lost to gun violence, told their stories to Pittsburgh City Council. This day, April 26, they would be more than statistics. This was a Day of Remembrance.
|BE AT PEACE—Following a full day of hearings on gun violence before city council, the Day of Remembrance ends with the release of doves from the steps of the City County Building. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
Reverend Maxine Blackwell Walker made sure council members would remember her son Sherwood, dead almost two years to the day.
“He left behind a little girl, two brothers. He was going to propose to his girl on Mothers Day. Instead, I spent it at his wake,” she told them.
“In your position it may not affect you, but the way things are going it will. I don’t know what you can do about it but you need to think about it. We can’t write them off because they aren’t significant to you. They are significant to us.”
Sandra Gibson told of losing two brothers to gun violence and having a nephew awaiting sentencing.
“And every year my mother calls the cold case office with a scrap of information. It’s been 27 years (for one) and 13 years (for the other), and she still calls. But they never respond.”
Dr. Louis Alarcon, trauma surgeon at UPMC Presbyterian, also gave council an overview of the damage he sees in young patients that don’t show up in the statistics they see about fatalities—those wounded by gunfire.
He said it is not uncommon to treat patients only to have them return with new gunshot wounds.
The event, sponsored by Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess and the Community Empowerment Association, truly was a day-long remembrance of gun violence victims. Beginning in the morning with the public council meeting where the relatives testified, through an afternoon post-agenda meeting where residents were able to converse with council members, to a late afternoon rally on the portico that culminated with the release of white doves.
Rashad Byrdsong, CEA executive director, said he was pleased Burgess sponsored the event and that the council devoted an entire day to the remembrance, commemoration and recognition of these lost lives.
“This was the first time I know of where a community group had council’s attention for an entire day,” said Byrdsong. “It was about remembrance, commemoration and recognition—the recognition was for them. We made the argument that they have to recognize that there is an epidemic in our neighborhoods.”
Burgess said the testimony struck home.
“I don’t think anyone could not be moved by these stories,” he said. “The effects of violence have devastated communities across this city. The stories of these families are therefore important for the whole city.”
Burgess noted that the Allegheny County Health Department, years ago, called the violence in Black communities a public health issue.
“That’s why I continue to push a legislative agenda to revitalize these communities. We need to redistribute resources to low- and moderate-income neighborhoods to deal with the multiple causes of violence.”
Byrdsong agreed, saying he plans to continue the push for an urban agenda that encourages business revitalization, workforce development and public health. He is currently working to engage the county government and corporate community in the effort.
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