Pittsburgh residents show they're 'safer together' amid increasing violence
August 6, 2014 12:00 AM
Debra Bonneau, of Homewood, line dances during a National Night Out event on Monticello Street in Homewood Tuesday evening.
Lorraine Cross, of the East Hills, line dances during a National Night Out event in the 7000 block of Monticello Street in Homewood on Tuesday evening.
By Lexi Belculfine / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Friends and families, babies and great-grandparents, and police officers and community leaders filled blocks and sidewalks Tuesday night to show they are “Safer Together” — the mantra of the city’s National Night Out.
In its 31st year, the national event fell just a day after city officials addressed an uptick in homicides in Pittsburgh. With 44 killings so far, the city is just two short of the total number recorded last year.
From neighborhood to neighborhood, there were 57 events ranging from block parties to small gatherings in yards. Last year, there were 48 events, up eight from the year prior.
National Night Out in Homewood
Homewood residences and other gather along the 7300 block of Monticello for the National Night Out event. It brought together residents and public safety officials in a fun block party atmosphere. (Video by Rebecca Droke; 8/5/2014)
“I believe residents have reaped the benefits of working together and partnering with police and other public safety personnel to keep neighborhoods safe and crime down overall,” said Elizabeth Style of the Department of Public Safety.
Quincy Weimer and Talmadge Wright sumo wrestle during the National Night Out event in East Liberty.
Across the city, the gatherings felt similar. People sat on their front porches. Kids played, danced and laughed in the streets. Kitchens and grills churned out fried chicken and hot dogs. Police officers talked with teens.
In Homewood, at a Monticello Street block party, residents remembered how different last year’s gathering was. The community had been plagued by shootings, some fatal.
This year, survivors mingled among neighbors, sharing food and conversation. There are more children in the streets, who feel safe running from house to house and playing on porches, said Celeste Taylor, who organized the 7000 block party.
“People have got to be a part of what they want to change,” Ms. Taylor said. There’s still work to be done, she said. Weeds in empty lots need to be cut. Streets need cleaning.
But Tuesday night was a chance for people to meet neighbors they didn’t know, the Homewood homeowner said.
“In neighborhoods where the community naturally gets together, it’s not as important as in areas like this,” said city public safety director Stephen Bucar, who attended the Monticello gathering, among others. He stressed the importance of good relationships in the East End between the police and residents.
Mr. Bucar said he hardly knew what National Night Out was before Tuesday night.
“That means we’re ahead of the game,” he said. “It can only foster good relationships.”
Down the street, kids with bare feet and eating ice cream bars talked to a police officer about his cruiser.
In the Hill District, the Dinwiddie Community Alliance threw its annual bash.
“It brings people together. No matter where you’re coming from, you can come here, and you get along,” said alliance president Marlene L. Jackson,
Outside the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in the South Side, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board handed out fliers, stickers and posters. Last year, the group was represented at a National Night Out event in Lawrenceville.
“We have two messages. Young people under 21 shouldn’t drink, and people over 21 should do so responsibly,” said Sheryl Laffey, supervisor of the western region Responsible Alcohol Management Program. City Council president Bruce Kraus, who was standing along East Carson Street, said the continued improvement of the South Side depends on responsible sales and service.
A majority of Carnegie Library branches across the city participated in National Night Out, said South Side branch manager Susan Waldo, who lives in the neighborhood. “I just want people to be responsible.”