WYNONA HAWKINS-HARPER speaks out against the ongoing gun violence plaguing Black communities across the region, during a news conference at Freedom Unlimited in the HIll District, Nov. 30. (Photo by Xavier A. Thomas)

Mothers, teens who have lost loved ones to gun violence say it must stop

According to your everyday dictionary, “Pain” is defined as “physical suffering or discomfort,” or “mental suffering or distress.”

Pain is something, most everyone would say, they’ve felt. One mother, though, disagrees.

“Until you have lost a child,” she said to the room, in front of all the cameras, for her entire community to hear, “you don’t know what pain is.”

Whether it was Connie Moore, or Wynona Hawkins-Harper, or Ramele Davis, all of them had the same story—Black mothers who had lost their beloved son to gun violence in the Pittsburgh area.

“What happened to the Black people, governing our communities and watching over our children…We are the leaders in our homes, and we are failing our children, the ones that’s raising them. How do you enable homicide, (for them) to kill the next one?”


Mother who lost her son, Jamar Hawkins

On Thursday, Nov. 30, as the night fell, along with the rain, a host of mothers shared their pain and testimony, with the message to Pittsburgh’s Black community that the gun violence must stop—right now.

They gathered at Freedom Unlimited in the Hill District, surrounded by community leaders, backed by organizations such as the Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP), the local NAACP, and Prevent Another Crime Today (P.A.C.T.).

“We are taking a stand and calling out to the community that this senseless violence will never end until the community steps up and does the right thing by turning in some of your own family members that you know are involved in this outrageous behavior,” said Valerie Dixon, executive director of P.A.C.T. “We understand that there is a tremendous level of inequities and lack of access to meaningful employment and entrepreneurial opportunities to many who live in our impoverished communities…but the murdering and shooting of our children will not be tolerated.”

SIX-YEAR-OLD SAVANNAH MORRIS knows her dad, Hosea Davis, is in heaven. But Morris’ grandmother, Connie Moore, knows it never should have come to this. Her son, Hosea, was killed in a Larimer shooting in 2014. (Photos by Xavier A. Thomas)The recent Thanksgiving holiday weekend was a violent one. Dixon discussed the incidents—14-year-old Augustus C. Gray killed in Lincoln-Lemington, two girls shot in the Hill District, 24-year-old Lamont Carey killed in Wilkinsburg, and 16-year-old Jerame Turner killed in Turtle Creek, along with a 13-year-old, “hit while running for his life,” Dixon said. The 13-year-old survived.

Even before the holiday weekend, a 28-year old, Zachary Walls, was killed in Penn Hills, and there was a shooting in Stowe Township.

“For those who are housing these criminals, they need to be held accountable as well,” Dixon said at the news conference. “For those who want out, we will help you. For those who are afraid, share your concerns so we can initiate solutions, but we can no longer sit around and do absolutely nothing. And yes, for those who pray, keep praying, but prayer without works is powerless. Don’t pray for the lottery, or a better vehicle, or a big house…pray for our kids’ futures.”

Moore spoke proudly about her son, Hosea Davis, who was killed in Larimer in 2014. Davis is remembered for heroically coming to the aid of a 16-year-old girl who was being stabbed inside the Target store in East Liberty a year earlier. Davis’ daughter, 6-year-old Savannah Morris, was at the news conference.

“She knows her dad’s in heaven,” Moore, the grandmother of the little girl, said. “She knows her dad was shot by the bad man.” It hurts Moore deeply that a six-year-old has to live with this realization.

DEAN GARLAND JR., a City Charter High School senior, told his fellow teens to “put the guns down,” and “rise above,” after his friend, Rayshawn Gibson, was killed last December.

Then unexpectedly, City Charter high school senior Dean Garland Jr. addressed the room. Wearing a shirt with a picture of his friend, Ray Ray, Garland said the teen violence occurring is becoming generational. “People have to understand that guns aren’t the answer, and a problem with this generation is we go towards violence, because violence leads to likes, leads to shares, leads to comments,” he said. “Whatever’s provocative, whatever gets the people going.

“It’s been a year (since Rayshawn Gibson’s passing), but it’s affecting everybody,” Garland said. “I can no longer talk to him, and the people that knew him can no longer talk to him.” Garland, a teen himself, urged his fellow teens to “put the guns down,” and “rise above.”

In Allegheny County, there have been nearly 100 homicides this year. Thirty-one of the victims have been under the age of 21. Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert told the crowd that seeing children getting shot and killed is “unacceptable.”

Chief Schubert added: “We have to come together, and we’ve always got to remember that public safety is a shared responsibility between all of us…We’re here to help…but that change has to start here with all of us. One group, one person can’t do it, but think about what we can do if we all work together.”

Davis lost her son, Kevin Morgan, to area gun violence. But she challenged the police, local community leaders and politicians to improve the witness protection program. Davis said more people would be willing to tell what they know if they were guaranteed more long-term safety.

The speakers all agreed that there’s many more people doing good than bad. But those few people doing bad are causing a situation in many local Black communities that has gotten out of hand, and is past senseless. And just hours after the news conference, hours after the public plea for positive change, there was word of a shooting in Swissvale, and later, Braddock.

“What happened to the Black people, governing our communities and watching over our children?” asked Wynona Hawkins-Harper, a mother who lost her son, Jamar Hawkins, to a shooting death in Penn Hills in 2013. “We are supposed to be the village of our children. We are the leaders in our homes, and we are failing our children, the ones that’s raising them. How do you enable homicide, (for them) to kill the next one?”

Hawkins-Harper added: “Where are these guns coming from, that are flooding the Black community, where they can go pick up a gun like you can go in the candy store and pick up a piece of candy. Who helps us in this struggle?”


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