March 14 was Jamar Hawkins‘ birthday. If he hadn’t been shot multiple times after leaving the Giant Eagle on Rodi Road in Penn Hills, he’d have turned 32 last week.
His mother, Wynona Harper, remembered him by holding a vigil near where he died, and by calling out the Black community for its cowardice in failing to identify the killers in his case and others. And she was not alone.
Harper was very direct.
“You all with those guns, how can you sit there and say you loved my son, and not stand up and say what you know,” she said. “Respect yourself, your parents and stand up. And quit blaming it on society, because it ain’t society—It’s the Black people killing Black people. If you loved him, stand up and tell the truth. Quit killing your own people.”
Harper said she has had enough and is starting a neighborhood watch to get rid of the criminals.
“I’m not afraid of none of y’all. We have to take responsibility for this stupidity out here. It starts with us. So, I’m starting a community watch, and we’re going to watch your asses out of here. You don’t look right—we’re stopping your car. Come back—we’ll do it again, and I’ll call the police. I don’t want it in my community. I’m not being held hostage. I’m entitled to live my life F-R-E-E.”
In addition to family and friends, Harper was joined by Penn Hills council members, the mayor, clergy, and state Reps. Tony Deluca, D-Penn Hills, and Ed Gainey, D-East Liberty.
Autumn Perkins, whose We Need Justice Too! Facebook page featured an announcement of the vigil to its more than 3,000 members, said she cannot imagine what Harper has endured.
“I can’t imagine losing a child,” Perkins said. “I have three that recently lost their father. And 10 years ago I lost my stepfather who was killed where he worked on his 60th birthday for some penny candy money. This has to stop. You have to stand up. Tell. Get on law enforcement to work your case. We know what’s going on in these streets.”
Deluca said he feels for what Harper is going through—his uncle was shot on Tioga Street in Homewood over a 5-cent candy bar 30 years ago, and his teenaged cousin was raped and killed after picking up a neighborhood kid on his way home to Murrysville.
“Children are not born to hate, we teach them that. We need to teach them the value of life,” he said. “And we need to get rid of these drug pushers. We need to eradicate them.”
Gainey said people know what’s going on in the streets, they just aren’t coming forward.
“You can’t say you want change and then not be the change by saying you don’t want to snitch,” he said. “We have to stand up in this community. No cavalry is coming to save us. We are the cavalry. The game isn’t Downtown, it’s here.”
Penn Hills Councilman Rev. J. Lavon Kincaid said people should do the right thing.
“Sometimes these perpetrators are our family members or our friends and sometimes they’re our neighbors,” he said. “We cannot be afraid to speak up because right will always win in the end.”
Before closing the vigil with “Happy Birthday,” Hawkins’ oldest daughter, Kymari Hawkins, 8, had some final words. She recalled the day “someone took her father away” and what it’s been like since. He will not be forgotten, she said.
“My dad will live forever. He will live through me and my sisters,” she said. “I love you and I miss you. Stop the violence.”
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