Wilkinsburg forum seeks community unity against scourge of violence
March 12, 2016 7:37 PM
Rose Brice, 48, of Wilkinsburg, expresses her concern Saturday while addressing a town hall meeting at South Avenue United Methodist Church, organized after five adults and an unborn child were killed last week.
Vanessa McCarthy-Johnson, a Wilkinsburg councilwoman, tears up as she addresses the crowd.
Jim Ruck, 71, of Forest Hills and a member of St. James Catholic Church in Wilkinsburg, listens at the Wilkinsburg town hall meeting regarding the mass shooting, Saturday at South Avenue United Methodist Church.
By Marylynne Pitz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As teenagers played basketball on a nearby playground Saturday, 300 Wilkinsburg residents and others gathered in the beautiful sanctuary of a Methodist church and discussed ways to rid their community of the ugly, deep-rooted scourge of drugs, guns and violent deaths.
Equal parts prayer meeting, public safety lesson and political rally, the three-hour forum, put together after five adults and an unborn child were gunned down at a cookout Wednesday night, featured comments from two staff members of CeaseFire PA., Wilkinsburg police officers and members of Mothers With a Voice, represented by four women who have lost children to violence. U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, state Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, and state Rep. Edward C. Gainey, D-Lincoln-Lemington, also spoke.
The audience rose to its feet and applauded for Michael Walker, a 54-year-old Homewood resident and father of 35-year-old Jerry Michael Shelton, one of the five adult victims.
“My son Michael was my oldest. He was a caring and loving man,” Mr. Walker said, holding a picture of his son when he was younger.
Mr. Walker said he was 21 when he joined the Army to support his family and served in conflicts in Grenada and Panama.
“I have a huge family. To this day, I don’t know anyone in my family who owns a gun,” Mr. Walker said, pointing out that he didn’t see any young men in the audience. He asked the community to keep him and his family in its prayers.
But there was a young man present. Godfrey McCray, 25, of Wilkinsburg, wore a black T-shirt with white letters that said “black education matters.”
Mr. McCray said he coaches baseball and football teams for young people.
Young people, he added, “feel left out by the community.” Community leaders, he said, need to learn what children are interested in and find ways to help and engage them.
The shootings, said Wilkinsburg council member Vanessa McCarthy-Johnson, were, “calculated, specific and violent. This, to me, is not normal. We have to work together to stop gun violence.”
Allegheny County police said Saturday that they had no new public information on their investigation of the shootings.
Mr. Gainey said he is tired of attending such meetings. His sister, Janese Jackson Talton, 29, was killed in January outside a Homewood bar. Police said she had resisted the advances of a man inside the bar, and he shot her after she left.
“You cannot incarcerate your way out of addiction,” Mr. Gainey said. ”We want resolutions and solutions and the only way we’ll get it is if we come together.”
Allegheny County Councilman DeWitt Walton of the Hill District said last week’s killings were unfortunate and unnecessary and noted that guns stolen from suburban homes often end up in Wilkinsburg.
English Burton, a member of St. Mark’s A.M.E. Zion Church in Wilkinsburg, urged community members to protect their neighbors by providing information to police.
Rob Conroy, director of organizing for CeaseFire PA., was joined by Shanon Williams, a coordinator and organizer for the same group.
Mr. Conroy said his organization is pushing for ”common-sense legislation,” adding that assault-style rifles “can be sold in parking lots without gun checks.”
Ms. Williams, a social worker, said there is never enough support for people traumatized by violence in predominantly black neighborhoods.
Marylynne Pitz at 412-263-1648 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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