When Autumn Perkins started the We Need Justice Too!!! Facebook page, it was in reaction to the perception that the murder of the Wolfe sisters—with its timeline almost magically laid out by electronic surveillance of the victims and their accused killer—received far more police attention than the still unsolved murder of her boyfriend and hundreds of others who are, unlike the Wolfe sisters, Black.
This even spawned a related effort in McKeesport, which has had the highest number of Black homicides in Allegheny County, over the last year, other than those in Pittsburgh. The perception is that Black homicides are not being solved while White homicides are.
So the new Pittsburgh Courier looked through a sample of its monthly “Under Attack by Us” posting of homicides that were originally published as unsolved from January 2013 through April 2014. The total was 56. Of those, 48 had Black victims. Of that number, 34 were committed in the city of Pittsburgh and 14 were committed elsewhere.
While only eight of the White killings were listed as unsolved at the time of publication, those that had been were domestic or family-related in nature. Several were murder/suicides. One was even a road rage killing.
The bulk of the Black murders, by comparison, didn’t have a blatantly obvious suspect waiting around at the scene. But that doesn’t mean the police couldn’t do their job.
Of the 14 Black “unsolved” homicides committed outside Pittsburgh, five have been solved. In another, the killer is serving 25 years to life on federal charges. In five more, county homicide Unit Cmdr. Lt. Andrew Schurman said detectives know who committed the crimes, but do not have the evidence needed to prove the charges in court.
He said those cases are the most frustrating, but he and the 17 other officers in the homicide division will continue to work them and the others from previous years that remain open. There is no such thing as a “cold case” in Allegheny County.
“We work all cases all the time. The newest go to the top of the list, but we still work older cases,” he said. “Some have repeat offender, a lot of the same players, and some cases from this year have ties to older cases—that’s one way we close the older ones.”
Schurman said the 16 officers and two supervisors in homicide investigate all deaths that are not from natural causes. That averages 400 cases a year.
“We rely on physical evidence, eye witness accounts, even after the fact admissions. Anything can help,” he said.
“Our clearance rate was 70 percent for last year. So we’re better than the national average (just under 63 percent), but that’s still 30 percent of these families who don’t have answers. My heart goes out to them”
As for the 34 “unsolved” Black homicides committed in the city of Pittsburgh, the Courier could not get a status update. Public Safety spokesperson Sonya Toler said the Courier would have to file a “right to know’ request for the update.
She did, however, forward the Bureau of Police 2013 final report on homicides, which cited 37 total Black homicides for the year. It also cited 23 Black offenders in those cases. That yields a 62 percent clearance rate. It notes six of nine offenders arrested in White homicides, or 66 percent.
In May (see Under Attack By Us), all six county homicides involved Black victims. So far, an arrest has been made in just one.
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