Pittsburgh participating in national week of nonviolence

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Pittsburgh joins numerous cities across the country in celebrating a national week of nonviolence organized by advocacy group Black Women for Positive Change, culminating in a Saturday summit in Washington, D.C.

The commemorative week comes amid national discussions of law enforcement, spurred by tension in Ferguson, Mo., where a police officer shot an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, two weeks ago.

Reflecting on the situation in Ferguson, Black Women for Positive Change co-founder Stephanie Myers said though she thought the police officer who shot Michael Brown was in the wrong, in general reducing violence requires a community effort. She said there are ways that police and citizens can change the discourse.

Police should spend more time engaging with local communities, including leaders such as the high school team captains and nonprofit directors, Ms. Myers said, adding, “we have to teach our young people that when they are confronted with an overly aggressive law enforcement officer they have to be strategic in how they respond.”

Black Women for Positive Change Pittsburgh liaison Diane Powell said one goal behind the week is teaching violence-prone adults and youth to think twice and learn to manage conflict without resorting to violence.

Pointing to Pittsburgh’s recent spike in homicides, Ms. Powell echoed Ms. Myers’ claim that citizens must join police in preventing violence. She said parents have a responsibility to teach their children conflict resolution skills and respect for law enforcement.

George Spencer, president of Mad Dads of Greater Pittsburgh, said his organization leads neighborhood patrols as a way of monitoring violence-prone neighborhoods and giving locals a friendly face to talk to, “community mentoring on the street,” he calls it. The group sent out a patrol Saturday in Wilkinsburg and plans to lead one Friday in Homewood.

Local pastors are also expected to preach about nonviolence, Ms. Powell said.

The centerpiece of this week’s activities will begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, with two screenings of a short film at Project Destiny and East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

The film, “On Second Thought,” is based on a true story and depicts three youths embroiled in an irrational love triangle. It has two alternate endings: One scenario involves a murder; the other does not, meant to prompt the audience to think about ways to prevent violence. There will be discussions after the screenings.

Ms. Myers said she hopes the week will spark communication between youths and adults, who often brush conversations about violence under the rug because they see it as inappropriate or ugly: “Well it is ugly, but the kids are living with it.”

Stephanie McFeeters: smcfeeters@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2533. On Twitter: @mcfeeters.

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