150 gather in front of Jeannette City Hall for peace rally

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Chad Fetty said he was pleased by the crowd of about 150 people who gathered Sunday in front of Jeannette City Hall in response to his call for residents to band together to clean up violence and crime in the small, close-knit community.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” said Mr. Fetty, who organized the We Are One ... A Rally for Peace, in response to a string of crimes that he said has residents living in fear.

Mr. Fetty, a city resident and lead singer for the band East Coast Turnaround, asked city council to support the rally late in November, shortly after a drive-by shooting on one of the city’s main thoroughfares. Four houses on North First Street were struck by gunfire that also hit a woman in the arm and chest while she was inside her home. The woman, who was hospitalized, is recuperating.

Dionne Lee McKelvin, 35, was charged with firing the shots. He is in the county prison in lieu of $500,000 bond, facing charges of attempted homicide, aggravated assault, endangering another person, discharging a firearm and illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

“These heinous crimes are eating away the very core of what made our city great,” Mr. Fetty said.

Council showed support for the rally; Mayor Richard Jacobelli and Councilmen Mark Levander attended, as did state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, and former city councilwoman Kathy Tanyer.

Raised on the outskirts of the city in Hempfield, Mr. Fetty has been a Jeannette resident for 10 years. He said he remembers coming to the city as a child when there was a bustling business district where people walked from store to store without any fear for their safety.

“I’ve come to love this city. It’s where I want to stay and raise my family,” he said.

Mr. Fetty was only one of several speakers to address the rally.

Chuck Stull, 50, said he could not have asked for a better place to have grown up and will forever be proud to say he is from Jeannette.

But Mr. Stull said townspeople have seemingly lost pride in the city. “We’ve got to bring pride back to Jeannette,” he said. “The glory days are definitely gone, but we don’t have to be so bleak.”

Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held urged residents to aid his department in fighting crime in their hometown.

“You’ve got to let criminals know you run the city, they don’t,” said Mr. Held, who said he’s hoping residents will support his new program called PASS (Presence Apprehension Support Security) that he is introducing to combat criminals not only in Jeannette but throughout the county.

According to the sheriff, the program, however, will rely heavily on residents being willing to be aware of and report all suspicious activity, and then follow through as the case makes its way through the court system.

“I’m employed by you to serve and protect and I plan to do my job, but I need your help,” he said. 

Jeannette native Tim Phillips, director of community prevention for Westmoreland Community Action, said that while law enforcement is essential to solving the criminal problem, much of which is caused by drug addiction, he pointed out that incarceration is not the full solution.

“We have to balance treatment, recovery and accountability,” Mr. Phillips said.

Nick Carrozza, 24, of Irwin told the crowd that he began using drugs at 12, and by 16 was selling narcotics to support his habit.

Mr. Carrozza was arrested and served an 18-month prison term. He said he received no treatment in the county prison and was released owing thousands in court costs and fines.

“I was sent back to the same environment. I couldn't get a job. I was turned down for student loans because of my felony convictions. I started selling drugs again. I started using again,” he said.

However, Mr. Carrozza said he finally decided that he needed to change his life and entered a rehabilitation program. Soon to mark a year free of drugs and alcohol, Mr. Carrozza said he now realizes how important treatment is to overcome the drug addiction problem.

Carmen Capozzi of Irwin said his son, Sage, was not as lucky as Mr. Carrozza and did not find help in time. Mr. Capozzi’s son died in 2012 from an overdose at age 20.

Mr. Capozzi, who founded Sage's Army to help those struggling with drug addiction as well as their loved ones, said awareness, compassion and action can combat fear, complacency, material living, stigma and shame.

“I’m calling on you to make a change today. And, change won’t happen unless you get involved,” he told the crowd.

Following the series of speakers, the crowd, led by Mr. Fetty, marched down Clay Avenue, the downtown business district, as a sign of their solidarity. The march ended at the new Keynote Cafe, where East Coast Turnaround performed.

Linda Metz, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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