Over the past decade, 80 percent of the homicides in Pittsburgh have come as a result of Black-on-Black crime. Of these killings, nearly 80 percent have also been caused from gun violence.

For the first time ever at the Women’s Walk for Peace, sponsored by the Northside Coalition for Fair Housing, the women activists and their supporters took a stand against gun violence, recognizing it as the leading cause of suffering in their communities.

PEACE MARCH—Women and children march down Charles Street in the North Side. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

“Every year we have a different theme. This year it’s about stopping gun violence. We never took on gun violence before because people are afraid of it,” said Ronell Guy, NCFH executive director. “This is about gathering people and information. It’s about moving people to work on this throughout the year.”

Now in it’s forth year, the Women’s Walk for Peace, held Sept. 17, brings together community organizations and representatives to address the issues negatively impacting African-American women throughout the city. The day-long event began with a two-mile walk through some of North Side’s neighborhoods and continued in West Park with a series of speakers, discussions, and a resource providers fair.

“Women of color in particular face an inordinate amount of violence in Pittsburgh. In order for women to be well in Pittsburgh we have to look at their total health,” said La’tasha Mayes, executive director of New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice. “We support the Women’s Walk for Peace, it brings together stakeholders in the community. We stand with them in their efforts.”

In looking at how gun violence impacts women, the Women’s Walk for Peace, took aim at straw purchasing, the illegal practice of purchasing a gun for another person. According to the organizers, a large portion of the illegal guns used in Pittsburgh are purchased by women.

“We have a woman in our program who made a straw purchase four years ago. She was in a nursing program. A lot of these women don’t know the consequences; they just think they’re helping their man,” Guy said. “I don’t care why they come. I care about while they’re here, if they hear something that spurs them to be activists. We can educate them.”

The organizers also brought the Asking Saves Kids campaign to their annual event to shed light on a parent’s responsibility to know if guns are present in homes where their children play. Another discussion focused on the nearly 1000 guns recovered annually by Pittsburgh police and called for deeper investigation into where those guns come from.

“This year we’re launching the ask campaign and it’s really pinpointing where the guns are coming from. It’s a problem that our young people are killing each other, but how is anyone under 21 years old getting a gun,” said Angel Gober, one of the event’s organizers. “Straw purchasing is illegal and women are some of the greatest culprits of it. This is something we plan on focusing on throughout the year.”

Each year the Women’s Walk for Peace tells the story of so many mothers who have lost sons to gun violence. It also tells the story of how Black-on-Black violence impacts neighborhoods throughout the city, whether residents are related to victims and perpetrators or not.

“I think this initiative is so wonderful. I’ve talked to a lot of mothers who have lost their sons and that is the saddest thing. It breaks your heart,” said Assistant Police Chief Maurita Bryant. “We want our young men to grow up and be productive.”

“I lived next to this family for 15 years and when this young man next door turned 19, he was shot 12 times. I saw this little boy grow up. This boy didn’t make it past 19,” said Dee Butler, a Northview Heights resident. “I don’t just do this every year because of him, but there have been so many people I’ve known who have died. Luckily I have seen Northview Heights come a long way. It used to be so bad you couldn’t walk out of your front door.”

This year’s event also saw the return of local radio personality Bev Smith as a guest speaker. While she applauded the group’s effort to control gun violence, she also said women can work to stop violence in their own homes with their own children.

“I think the problem is deeper than just the guns. It’s about your attitude. We need to redefine violence. We have allowed abuse and violence to persist in our community. The thing that these kids don’t understand is when they shoot someone, that person is not getting back up. When you shoot someone, you kill everyone of us in the Black community,” Smith said. “If you want to decrease the gun violence, you have to start in your own home. Stop being violent towards your children. Change the way you talk to them.”

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