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Identity & Community

Portrait Of A Neighborhood: How Stats Tell Wilkinsburg's Story

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

Borough Councilman Michael Rose posted a snapshot of crime statistics in his community on Facebook just one day before at least two shooters killed six and injured three in an ambush-style shooting in Wilkinsburg.

Aggravated assaults and motor vehicle thefts are up about 40 percent over the past five years, but arson, robbery, burglary and larceny are all down, according to a recent police report, he said.

"You know people say, 'Oh, Wilkinsburg. That stuff happens all the time.' No, it doesn't happen all the time. It's not really who we are, but it's who people think that we are," Rose said.

The morning after the fatal shooting, many in the area said they were surprised to see such a grisly crime in what neighbors called a quiet area.

Credit Michael Rose / Facebook

The borough is one of Allegheny County’s many small municipalities, comprised of roughly two square miles dotted with about 800 vacant commercial and residential properties, according to the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation. About two-thirds of its 15,000 residents self-identify as black.

Rose acknowledged the blight, but said his borough is seeing renewed investment and economic development.

“Wilkinsburg is on pace to be exactly what East Liberty is, which is a community which has seem some major revitalization,” Rose said. 

Council recently voted to allow liquor sales, and that's a good sign, he said. It means people are opening bars and restaurants to serve a population with disposable income.

“I think it's a great city,” said Eli Kihonie, who owns rental property in Wilkinsburg. “It's a city that I think is getting more opportunity upcoming."

Shootings happen all the time in other places, she said, "so I don't want to single out just Wilkinsburg alone, but something will have to be changed about this mass shooting and this kind of situation that is happening in our community." 

Rose said Wilkinsburg is the safest it’s been in five years, but not everyone feels that it is, especially after Wednesday’s shooting. The borough's Police Chief Ophelia Coleman said about seven people died, mostly in gang or drug-related incidents, in 2015.

“I just moved to Wilkinsburg two weeks ago,” said resident Darrell Wolfe. “Since I've been there, someone stole $200 from me out of my hand. So I knew that there was a criminal element in this town, and all of a sudden I hear this thing about five people killed last night, and I don't want to be part of that. I want those people who perpetrated that act to be caught and to serve whatever time they need to serve in penance for what they did."

90.5 WESA reporters Irina Zhorov and Mark Nootbaar contributed to this report.