South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Coalition works to end the violence in South Pittsburgh

SPCP brings together organizations for a common cause

 


Concerned with escalating violence in South Pittsburgh neighborhoods, the South Pittsburgh Coalition for Peace (SPCP) recently convened a town hall meeting to draw awareness to the problem.

Moderated by Rev. Eileen Smith, the forum included faith based organizations along with youth program providers and representatives from the City of Pittsburgh and Mount Oliver police departments.

“We’re here because we will not tolerate it,” Rev. Smith said of the recent murder of David McIntyre and wounding of his brother, CJ Mikula-Conrad, and three others in a separate incident. “Violence and homicide affects the entire community as well as families.”

The SPCP began in 2005 as a result of a shooting at Carrick High School, Roxanne Epperson, program manager said. The organization was formed by The Birmingham Foundation, community members and service providers.

Training is provided by the SPCP to service providers and community members on violence prevention, why violence happens and how to deal with violence in the neighborhoods. In addition, the organization hosts regular meetings of service providers to provide an opportunity to network and share information on what is happening in their agencies and funding opportunities.

The SPCP also operates the Young Mothers Program and Dare to Dream Program.

Ms. Epperson also operates the Women Against Abuse Program dealing with family violence.

The first speaker was Rev. Cornell Jones, an activist and pastor of Iron Cross Ministries, chaplain of SCI Pittsburgh and an expert in violence de-escalation.

“We’re dealing with a lot of people who are known to the situation,” Rev. Jones said. “When you’re known to the situation, it’s almost like someone keeps hitting you in the same arm over and over again and your arm becomes numb to it to the point where it’s like this is just part of life…This isn’t something we have to accept.”

He said it’s gotten to the point where people are afraid to come in and talk about it because they’re afraid they are going to be judged, that other people will say, “they’re against me” because they came out. One way to counter that thinking was to stress being part of a movement, part of a team.

“There’s nothing stronger than a united front,” Rev. Jones said.

His multi-pronged strategy for stopping the violence included building on the strengths and resources of the South Side: By joining with the community groups, the clergy, the schools and people that live in the neighborhoods to promote the same value system. As a part of the movement, he said people shouldn’t accept behavior that is not part of their value system.

One way for people to share their values and to help protect themselves is to establish block watches and street watches. The block watches allow nearby residents to share information while the street watches moves the message to people outside the homes.

He said the street watches provide an opportunity to build relationships and for people to see that they’re not being judged.

Rev. Jones said he works with a lot of guys who said they did things because there was no one there to stop them. Once there’s a common vision saying this behavior won’t be accepted, the home invasions and violence will stop.

“It takes us humbling ourselves and standing on one accord,” he said.

Rev. Smith commented about the increased impatience in society today, citing road rage and holiday shopping as examples, and people’s hostile reactions to each other. She attributed her increased on-line shopping as a reaction to the poor behavior.

In instances where she had encountered aggressive conduct, she said a, “God bless you and Merry Christmas” stopped them in their tracks. She recommended if things got “real bad” to call 9-1-1.

“For all of us, we have choices to make. We can decide whether we’re going to be good people or we’re going to be bad people. It’s all about us,” Zone 3 Crime Prevention Officer Christine Luffey said.

The people committing these crimes are going to have to live with these crimes for the rest of their lives, she continued.

Officer Luffey said she is happy to help neighbors form block watches because it helps pull the community together. One of the first things she does in organizing a block watch is to bring neighbors together so everyone knows where everyone lives and what kind of vehicle they drive.

She said it makes it easy to identify someone in the neighborhood who doesn’t belong there when everyone knows each other.

“You get so much more out of life when you’re part of a team rather than fighting as an individual,” Officer Luffey said.

Speaking specifically to the young people in the audience, she cautioned them to be careful of the company they keep. If they’re using drugs or committing crimes, “get away from them,” she said.

“Just one bad act can change your life,” she said.

Officer Luffey offered a few crime prevention tips before ending her presentation:

Keep windows and doors locked. When shopping, hide valuables in the trunk of the car and move it to another space in the parking lot after stowing purchases.

She recommended people leave lights in their homes as a deterrent. The officer, who has five dogs of her own, also suggested having a dog in the home.

Lastly, she told audience members that if they see something that doesn’t look right, to call 9-1-1. “If you see something, say something.”

The Isaiah Project and My Brother’s Keeper were started to keep kids off the streets, executive director Terrell Thomas said. The programs were begun by his mother, Sharon Daniels.

In discussions with his mother, he said they believed if they could put time and energy into young men before they tasted the fruits of an illegal lifestyle, they could make a difference.

Mr. Thomas said none of the kids in the program have been shot or incarcerated and all that have gone through the program have graduated from high school.

“It takes a community to have trust and faith to give you their child and know that they’re safe and they’re protected,” he said.

“When something’s wrong, don’t turn a blind eye to it. Potentially it could be your child and when it’s your child and you need a shoulder to cry on, those tears last a lifetime I’ve been on that side of the fence as well,” Mr. Thomas said.

Take a stand and tell your sons and nephews they shouldn’t be spending time with friends that are leading down the wrong path, he continued. Tell them they can’t bring those people into the home.

“We keep hearing that word fear. Fear has gripped our community,” began Rev. Maurice Trent, pastor of the Lighthouse Cathedral.

“Our young kids getting shot is not normal,” he continued. As a pastor, he explained he has been at viewings of a child in a casket and people were talking and laughing as if it were a social event.

“I know they mean no disrespect, but we have a way of making things normal without even realizing it and we have to make a conscious effort to really grasp what is going on and then do something about it,” he said.

The pastor said the same people have been allowed to continue perpetually to commit the same crimes.

It’s important for people to stand up and let their voices be heard. He plans to continue to speak out and to continue to hold marches in the community.

Rev. Trent said the importance of the marches is to say, “To keep your mind sharp and say this stuff is not normal.”

He said although it’s not politically correct to say, one of the responsibilities of the church is to reinstate fathers back into the homes.

Rev. Trent agreed it was important to reach children at a young age instead of changing the mindset of grown men, “because that’s some hard work,”

“If we can get them here and we can teach them, we can spare a lot of kids a life of crime,” he said.

Another issue he said is to talk to kids about abstaining from sex because “we’re having babies raising babies.”

“And babies raising babies is a direct result of some of this drama we’re seeing in the streets,” Rev. Trent said.

Another initiative he would like to see is cameras monitoring some of the “hot spots” in the community. In addition to the cameras, he said it’s important to have someone actually monitoring the cameras rather than just going back to see what happened after the crime.

Bishop Otis L. Carswell of the Potter’s House Ministries spoke briefly about a new program his wife, Annette Carswell, recently began. He said the support group asks: “Mothers, are you raising the next murderer?”

The faith based program welcomes mothers who think their child may even be remotely getting involved with the “thug life” or a life of deception.

“She’s trying to tackle it from both areas: Those who have lost and those who are perpetrators,” he said.

Continuing on, Bishop Carswell said it may not be politically correct to say, “But I don’t think we’re going to stop violence. That’s the truth of the matter. We can de-escalate it, but we’re not going to stop it. And so we can do all that we can do to de-escalate it, to try to stop it but don’t be deceived, violence is old, it’s spiritual wickedness in high places and so since we’re not able to stop it we have to be prepared spiritually to deal with it and to endure.”

“Action’s going to come from the brilliant minds in this room today and those that will join us in the future, because the majority of us, the 99 percent of us, didn’t come out here just to listen. We came out to see how we can get involved,” Voices Against Violence executive director Richard Carrington said.

He said there were nine people in the audience who had lost a son, a brother or nephew to violence. Their greatest wish, other than having their loved one back, would be to see justice served and the killers caught.

“I want you to take a second and I want you to think about your grandson, or your son, or your brother who hasn’t been hit by this tragedy yet and how outraged you would be when it hits your home and you get that call in the middle of the night and you’re on your way to the hospital with uncertainty whether your child is alive or dead, based on violence,” Mr. Carrington said.

“You’re not going to stop a thief from being a thief, you’re not going to stop the bully from being a bully, but what we can do is show a united front.”

He said those gathered are there for one of two reasons: Either because violence has already visited their family or because they are afraid it will.

“Until we decide to band together as one voice regardless of who you like in the collation you have got to hate the murderer more that the people who are trying to make a difference regardless of what your differences are with each other,” Mr. Carrington said.

 

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