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Identity & Community

Community groups call for an end to gun violence in Pittsburgh

Jerrel Gilliam Call for Peace North Side gun violence shooting.jpg
Julia Zenkevich
/
90.5 WESA
Jerrel Gilliam, the executive director of Light of Life Rescue Mission, speaks to prayer walk participants at the site of the shooting on the North Side this past weekend.

Nearly 100 community members and faith leaders gathered on the North Side Wednesday to call for an end to gun violence after a shooting over the weekend left two teenagers dead.

“We often come together when big incidents like this happen,” said Allegheny County Council member Olivia Bennett, whose district includes the North Side. “We come out, we meet, we do a march, we do a rally, we burn some candles, we release some balloons, and then we go home until the next event. I’m tired of that.”

Speakers at the event convened by Light of Life Rescue Mission discussed how racism, a lack of mental health care and other systemic problems can affect gun violence.

“We know this impacts many communities, but disproportionately communities of color and Black communities specifically,” Bennett said.

Loleda Moman grew up in Northview Heights. She said when she was a kid, young people spent their time in afterschool programs or at the rec center. Church and community groups gave them opportunities and transportation to see other neighborhoods. Now, she worries those opportunities aren’t as available.

“We’re being removed. Our babies are being pushed in the back. They’re being named and labeled things. That’s unfair,” she said. “We need to create a space where kids can be kids.”

Imani Chisom, an assistant director for student ministries at Allegheny Center Alliance Church, said helpful programs exist across the city, but they’re isolated.

“It would be wonderful if we could create a forum so that community members know where in the city that their kids can be sent to,” she said, noting that it’s difficult for some to get involved with community groups if they don’t already have connections.

“Our kids are in need of intervention from all sectors from the faith-based sector, from our physical doctors, from mental health and behavioral health professionals, from community members,” said Cathy Sigmund, chief behavioral health officer with the North Side Christian Health Center.

Sigmund said addressing violence today may need to look different than it did in the past, and people should address the issue with an open mind.

“One of my concerns is that the old strategies based on old paradigms are not sufficient. They are not adequate to deal with the issues that our children are dealing with,” she said.

The shooting on the North Side came amidst an uptick in violence city-wide. According to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner, there have been 22 homicides in the county as of Mar. 30. Data from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police shows a total of 51 homicides in 2021.

In an interview with WESA’s The Confluence, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey said his administration plans to take an “all-in approach” to addressing violence.

The administration has not yet released details for what this approach would entail, but Gainey said his office would continue to work with public safety, community groups and others to address safety concerns.

“This violence is picking up all throughout America. And in the city, we’ve seen a spike, and we know that we’re going to do all we can to deal with it. We definitely will improve in regards of bringing safety to our neighborhoods.”

Gainey previously began a series of public meetings to combat local violence.

“Let me be clear: these children didn’t create this culture of violence; they inherited it,” Gainey said.

At a prayer walk after the meeting, Light of Life Rescue Mission executive director Jerrel Gilliam said change needs to be a group effort.

“I believe we need answers on all levels. We need the legislators, we need policies, we need programs, but we cannot legislate or change hearts. It happens from the inside out,” he said.

Moman stressed the need for continuing conversation about gun violence.

“We have to show up. Not only come outside the walls of the church, come out of your house. Be neighborly. Be friendly. Walk the walk,” she said. “We’re the grandmas now. We’re the aunties now. It starts here.”

North Side Partnership Project will hold another public meeting at 6 p.m. Friday, April 22 at the former McNaugher School.