Over the weekend, a series of shootings in several different parts of Allegheny County have pushed this year’s homicide count past last year’s total. At the current count of 89, over last year’s count of 87, there is still time for the count to soar even higher with one and a half months left until the new year.

TAKE ACTION—Rev. Glenn Grayson inspires the crowd to move forward. (Photo by Gail Manker)

In a city commonly known for its disjointed activism efforts, law enforcement, government officials and community leaders came together on Nov. 13 to address the city’s Black-on-Black violence epidemic. The emergency town hall meeting hosted by the Community Empowerment Association in collaboration with the Peace Alliance Network drew approximately 200 people to Schenley High School.

“There’s a small group of people that’s holding our families hostage. We need to come together once and for all and get it done,” said Debra Germany, executive director of Divine Intervention Ministries. “I believe we need to check our egos, titles and affiliations at the door and get to work.”

Leading the charge to open up the meeting was Rev. Glenn Grayson, pastor of Wesley Center AMEZ Church, whose 18-year-old son was shot and killed last month.

“I think all sectors of the community have to play a role in eradicating this unbelievable situation that we’re in as young Black men historically take the lives of other Black men,” Grayson said.

Participants were broken down into groups comprised of youth, educators, faith leaders, political activists and women who have lost family members to violence. They were assigned the task of developing strategies to be included in a policy for the Commission for a Better Life.

“There’s a lot of us doing a lot of good work. “This here today is about bringing us together,” said Rashad Byrdsong, founder of CEA. “These recommendations are to arrest the root causes or detriments which add to the incubation of violence both private and public.”

Although it was announced that the mayor, politicians and school board members would be in attendance, the mayor was absent along with several others.

“Every government official should have been here to hear their constituents’ recommendations. If they were running for reelection they would be here,” Byrdsong said. “We need to come up with our own urban agenda and say if you want our vote, this is what you’re going to run on.”

Local law enforcement officials attended the meeting in an effort to form a more cooperative partnership with residents and educate them on the realities of gun violence in the city. So far this year there have been 388 aggravated assaults by gun, a statistic that sheds a glaring light on the city’s rampant violence.

“What is the reason to ride down your street or my street and just start shooting? What is the purpose? There are so often people who have guns who are not supposed to have them,” said Detective Jill Rustin, firearms tracking unit. “All of those guns that we trace come back to people right here in the community. The guns that are coming to our community are not those phantom guns. I think that’s a myth where we’re trying to blame someone else.”

Each group pledged to meet within 30 days to continue their work and form a concrete set of recommendation.

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