Finding a way to stop the shootings that seem to be holding Black neighborhoods hostage to the whims of young criminals was the goal of the Community Empowerment Association’s 11th Annual Black Family Reunion event.
A conversation about the “Culture of Violence in the Black Community” was held at the CEA Arts, Culture and Training Center at 7120 Kelly St. The workshop, was comprised of an eight-member panel.
CEA President and CEO Rashad Byrdsong opened the forum with directives for the community. “We are responsible for our issues and we need to recognize them and commit to our part in identifying a fix,” he said. He affirmed that the gathering was not about finding fault or teaming up against the police, but to see how to establish a ‘plan of action’ for turning this situation around.
Twenty years ago Renee Goodson, a retired schoolteacher from Homewood, was among the first women to lose a son to the gang violence. Last Aug. 22, 2013, Mae Hudson of McKeesport lost her son and his cousin to gun violence.
As part of the panel, Goodson discussed losing her son, and how working with Byrdsong, and her commitment to saving other young men from dying, was her pathway to peace.
“It is still fresh, it is so painful, I don’t believe those who are doing these killings have a clue as to how much this hurts, and/or what we go through after our child has been taken from us,” she said. “I had nowhere to wrap my grief around; and I felt the strong need to do something.”
So she got involved in two organizations: We Want Justice Too, which was created as a result of what appeared to be an extremely swift solving of the February murder of the Wolfe sisters in Pittsburgh, and Take Action Mon Valley, which was created to address the violence outside the city limits.
Panelist Beth Pittinger, executive director of Pittsburgh’s Citizen Police Review Board, said she was there to listen and learn exactly what the community had to say.
“At the end of the day, one of our goals is that each member of society walking along the street gets home safely at night, as well as every cop who is out there working his/her beat returns home safely to their family,” she said. “We believe the answer lies with all of us working together to achieve this joint goal.”
Maurita Bryant, assistant Chief of Operations for the Pittsburgh Police, introduced herself and shared some startling stats about the unsolved homicides in Pittsburgh, declaring that the majority of them come from Homewood.
“I see a change in what these young people are exposed to–it’s different from what the others went through. Social media has made a huge negative influence on the young ones—there used to be gangs, now we have Facebook,” she said. “One of my concerns is also that we don’t realize this violence battle is not just a police problem. We sit around and wait to see what the police are doing, but sometime we need to ask ourselves, what are we going to do? I don’t mean apprehending criminals, but how are we fixing the things we can fix? Are we policing in our homes the way we should be? All of this factors in if we are to restore our communities.”
Other panelists included, Valerie McDonald Roberts, Chief of Urban Affairs, Office of the Mayor; Regina McDonald, acting Chief of Police; Zone 5 Cmdr. Timothy O’Conner; Office of Municipal Investigations Director Deborah Walker; Homicide Sgt. Lavonnie Bickerstaff; Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime Coordinator Jay Gilmer; and NAACP Pittsburgh Unit President Connie Parker.
Questions and answers from the participating audience created a lively exchange. Some of the questions had to do with when would Blacks see more diversity among the officers in their neighborhood? Why are there seemingly no consequences for “bad cops,” and what kind of services are in place for the young moms whose men have been killed?
“It appears to me that across the United States there is a diminishing lack of respect and value for life,” McDonald said. “These young ones seem to think that problems can be solved by eliminating one another.”
O’Conner, shared his personal commitment to the streets of Homewood. On Aug. 11, 13 new officers were brought on board to protect the neighborhood.
Walker said the community has no guaranteed of better treatment, more respect, or even greater fairness from an officer who is Black as opposed to White.
“Sorry to say, I can speak to the fact that too many times officers who identify their own race as African-American, can be just as bad as, or worse on our community than their White counterpart,” she said.
Byrdsong charged the panel to commit to a “real plan together to convene quarterly for a forum to flush out the large conversation and build steps towards solving this problem.”
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