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MARITA GARRETT

Yesterday morning, Sept. 18, a 31-year-old male was shot twice in the chest as he slept in the back seat of a car parked in a driveway in the 8000 block of Susquehanna Street in Wilkinsburg.

As of Courier press time, he was listed in critical condition at UPMC Presbyterian.

However, there have been six shooting victims who have died in Wilkinsburg this year, three times as many as in 2017.

On Feb. 22, as she was walking home on Laketon Road in Wilkinsburg, 27-year-old Keiauna Davis was shot to death when a co-worker and two accomplices conspired to steal the tax refund she’d received that day. That story made national headlines.

Other homicides received moderate attention, and some received little attention.

But the spike in homicides in Wilkinsburg has garnered the full attention of Mayor Marita Garrett. She told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview, Sept. 18, that Wilkinsburg remains a safe, close-knit community.

“We’re being proactive and not reactive in how we’re addressing (the shootings),” she said.

MARITA GARRETT

There have been arrests in many of the homicides. And nearly two weeks ago, when Penn Hills police arrested Dashere Davenport just minutes after he allegedly shot and killed 18-year-old Khalil Logan in Wilkinsburg, it was the Wilkinsburg police officers who were working extra patrols that witnessed Davenport leaving the scene and broadcasted his description.

In addition to the extra patrols that have been ordered by Wilkinsburg police Chief Olphelia “Cookie” Coleman, Mayor Garrett said there are “multiple surveillance cameras throughout the borough,” hoping to deter violence, along with “finding the evidence against” perpetrators.

The other homicides in Wilkinsburg this year include: Dwayne Tolbert-McGhee, who was fatally shot outside Muhammad Mosque 22 on May 2—he named his killer before dying—Delvante Thomas of Penn Hills was arrested and charged three weeks later; Deandre Bratcher, who was found fatally wounded in a car near the intersection of Glen Avenue and Hunters Street on June 19—police released surveillance video of “a person of interest” in the shooting Aug. 23, but no arrest has been made; Tyrelle Bowyer, just 15, who was allegedly shot in the head by another teen, Brandon McFarland, 17, of Homewood—McFarland has been charged as an adult; and Michael Jefferson, who was found shot to death in in an overgrown yard on Montier Street.

“Please be assured that what’s really happening is more than just a Wilkinsburg thing,” Mayor Garrett told the Courier. “Gun violence is a public health epidemic, and that’s why you’ve seen an increase in homicides countywide.”

Mayor Garrett called today’s gun violence a “sickness. There’s something in the social fabric in our region where instead of addressing someone 1-on-1, you just shoot.” Mayor Garrett feels not enough is being done to address the gun violence, while there is much more attention given to, say, the opioid overdose crisis.

As for the increased violence in Wilkinsburg this year, Mayor Garrett was quick to point out that none of the suspects charged in the homicides are from Wilkinsburg. “We want to continue to be strategic, we always try to be proactive and handle things progressively. We can keep Wilkinsburg safe, but if Penn Hills or (another community) comes in here and does the killing…”

Mayor Garrett also told the Courier that there will be an internal meeting with many of the local police agencies on the East End, including communities from the Woodland Hills area and Penn Hills, to discuss ways to curb the gun violence in those areas. The meeting, which initially will be closed to the public, will occur in roughly two weeks.

As for Wilkinsburg specifically, Mayor Garrett urged criminals to stay away. “We are an engaged community, we are a vigilant community with multiple active block watches, so nothing goes unseen,” she said. “Our residents report, they feel comfortable sharing information with our officers. We are looking, we are watching, we are everywhere, you will be caught and we’re not going to tolerate it.”

 

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