South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

CeaseFirePA discusses statewide multi-faceted issue of gun violence

 

Last updated 6/8/2022 at 9:23pm



“The Multi-Faceted Issue of Gun Violence” on a statewide level, as well as locally, was the focus of the May 26 Zoom meeting of the Zone 3 Public Safety Council (Z3PSC).

The presentation by CeaseFirePA Western Pennsylvania manager Josh Fleitman had been scheduled for months, and proved “especially timely,” he said, in light of the mass shooting days earlier that killed 19 elementary school children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas.

CeaseFirePA is the largest and longest-serving anti-gun violence group in Pennsylvania.

The types of gun violence are categorized as: firearm suicide; community violence; domestic violence; and mass shootings.

Mr. Fleitman said 1,752 Pennsylvanians lost their lives in 2020 to gun violence, which is an all-time high. That total includes suicides and accidents.

About 52.5 percent were suicides, and 45 percent were homicides. The majority of firearm suicides are by white men over age 60 living in rural communities.

“Suicide is very impulsive,” he said, so guns in a home can be dangerous. While 90 percent of attempted suicides by firearms are successful, other means are successful only 40 percent of the time, which means help can be sought for the person.

Regarding community violence, Mr. Fleitman said 75 percent of the victims of gun violence in Allegheny County are black. Black Pennsylvanians are also 21 times more likely to be murdered with a gun compared to white Pennsylvanians.

For that reason, CeaseFirePA will be marching in solidarity with black community members and neighbors in the Juneteenth parade from the Hill District to Downtown on the morning of Saturday, June 18.

Lineup will be at 10 am at Freedom Corner located across the street from St. Benedict the Moor Church, 91 Crawford St.

Mr. Fleitman said 80 percent of all homicides in the state involve a gun. More than 3,000 people are injured every year in Pennsylvania by gun violence, but survive.

Beyond the physical damage, gun violence inflicts a mental and emotional toll on children. They are also twice as likely to visit emergency rooms following gun violence, he said.

Regarding mass shootings, defined as four or more injured people, the weapon of choice tends to be military-style rifles.

In 2021, there were 35 mass shootings in Pennsylvania, with the state averaging a mass shooting every 10 days.

With domestic violence, the incidents are five times more likely to be fatal when firearms are involved.

Mr. Fleitman said the state passed Act 79 four years ago which keeps firearms out of the hands of abusers, but that its implementation is “inconsistent.”

 One solution to end gun violence, he said, is the Common Agenda, which brings together more than 130 organizations to advocate for solutions.

Common Agenda goals include extreme risk protection orders; lost or stolen gun reporting; and universal background checks.

Another solution is to invest in safer communities.

Components of successful programs include: must be targeted to high-risk individuals; and must focus efforts on providing for a person’s economic needs, healing trauma, and addressing other risk factors.

A sample program in Philadelphia targets young men just out of prison with job training and an 18-month stipend. There is also mental health treatment.

“This program works very, very well,” said Mr. Fleitman.

Other solutions include a ban on assault weapons, ghost gun regulation, and safe storage.

With the latter, 5.4 million American minors live in homes with loaded, unsecured firearms. The state has no legal requirements for safe storage, he said.

To help end gun violence, he suggests contacting legislators; talking to family, friends, and neighbors; and volunteering to share information about gun violence prevention at tables at events.

For more information on CeaseFirePA, visit: https://www.ceasefirepa.org/about-us/ . To contact Mr. Fleitman, email: josh.fleitman@ceasefirepa.org .

Next, continuing with the gun violence theme, city Councilman Bruce Kraus said the East Carson St. corridor is “acting out of what you are discussing,” to settle turf wars and more as thousands of young people descend on the area every weekend.

“We are at the brink of mass casualty,” he said, adding he fears Pittsburgh will be the next city on CNN for a mass shooting on East Carson St.

He said “everything is on the table” as officials are willing to do whatever is needed to avoid a potentially explosive outcome.

Deputy Director/Assistant Chief Linda Barone, Bureau of Police, said it is “important to have visibility” on East Carson St.

The five-block area of 13th to 18th streets is very congested with lots of activity. While most of the people are not problems, outsiders come in, like for the “Under 21” nights, and then mill around on Fridays and Saturdays.

Deputy Director Barone said she will make sure officers are spread out over the five-block corridor, and those walking on the streets will be visible.

Patrons are encouraged to use Lyft and Uber rides if drunk. She would like to have drop-off and pick-up sites, thereby making it easier for those who need rides.

“We’re really trying to find out what works for everybody,” she said.

If a so-called “pop-up” party springs up, the police try to keep everyone safe.

Mr. Kraus said they are illegal as there is no occupancy permit or LCB involvement. They also hire bar security, which cannot end well, he said. The Dept. of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections (PLI) needs to shut them down.

The deputy director said if organizers do not have the proper permits, the police will shut them down. The police “monitor social media,” she said, to learn of events in advance to shut down, if need be.

Three were shut down in April as the police knew about them in advance. She asked that the public inform them of any pop-up places that arise.

Mr. Kraus said the East Carson St. safety lane should be kept open beginning at 6 p.m., and that the lane benefits officers.

Deputy Director Barone said an East Carson St. plan will be released in a few weeks to let businesses and the community know what to expect.

Z3PSC President Liz Style said every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday is worse than any St. Patrick’s Day the area ever experienced. She asked that the police tell the community “what’s going on and will happen.”

“Communication is a vital part of all these things we are trying to do,” the deputy director said.

In the crime report, Lt. Mark Rush said that last year at this time 15 shots had been fired in Zone 3; this year, there have been 41 shots. Last year at this time there had been two homicides; this year, there have been nine.

With thefts, there were 70 last year at this time; this year, there have been 150 thefts.

Gasoline is also being stolen, he said, which he never saw until this year.

Regarding the Embr bar at 153 S. 18th St., Ms. Style said tailgating with open containers, and people lying on the street, take place in the area.

Mr. Kraus said he met with the owner of the building, and that the problems mostly occur on Sunday nights and very late.

“It was, and remains to be, very problematic,” he said.

Attendees asked if people are tailgating and drinking from open containers, should they call 911?

Lt. Rush said yes, and that the police will respond. 

An attendee said that 911 is not always effective. When she called 911 to report the tailgating and music and weed being smoked at an East Carson St. site, she was told it was not a police matter.

Deputy Director Barone said if residents are told that then the police need to follow up with the dispatcher. Call the zone directly and also contact her. The Zone 3 phone number is 412-488-8326.

To a question about dirt bikes on Fisher St., Lt. Rush said they are not pursued on roadways as the police cannot risk injuries by having someone run over during a pursuit. A driver may also die in a pursuit.

An attendee said home scanners inform violators if the police are coming, so they park the vehicles.

Lt. Rush said to call the zone directly when you suspect they are listening to the scanners. Mr. Kraus said a caller can also tell the dispatcher to not put the information on the scanner.

Deputy Director Barone said there is a small group of officers who track the dirt bikes on video, and if the riders are identified, will take action.

For illegal dumping, call the zone and leave your phone number, Lt. Rush said.

He will also be looking into an after-hours club on Bausman St., and shots that Arlington residents are frequently hearing.

To a question about officers on East Carson St., Lt. Rush said on weekends there are 18 to 24 officers in vehicles. He is not aware of any on foot patrol.

A South Side bar owner said an employee of his was shot, not fatally, on the way to his car.

“It really hit home,” he said, that something needs to be done.

Mr. Kraus said there will never be enough officers for 1,200 to 1,500 people on the street, many with handguns, and 2,000 in the bars. When the latter are forced onto the street at closing at 2 a.m., the total rises to 4,000.

“We must see crowd reduction,” he said.

The city’s nighttime economy manager, Allison Harnden, reported the Clean Team collected 250 hard liquor bottles in the trash in one month.

Deputy Director Barone said a lot of officers have been lost recently due to retirements and more. The total currently is a little below 800 officers. There are, however, motorcycle and specialty units, and canines, she said.

To a question about a new academy class, she said she is not aware of any scheduled class.

In other news, National Night Out (NNO) will be held on Aug. 2 from 5 to 9 p.m.

The annual event is designed to advance the importance of neighborhood unity and community-public safety relationships, and will be held locally in various neighborhoods as porch gatherings, block parties, festivals, and more.

 The deadline is July 22 for block watches to register their neighborhood’s NNO event with the city’s Dept. of Public Safety to receive resources for their celebrations. Public safety personnel can also be scheduled to stop by.

The address is: pittsburghpa.gov/national-night-out.

The next Z3PSC meeting will be at 6 p.m. on June 23 via Zoom.

Prior to all Zone 3 meetings, questions on any public safety/quality of life issue may be sent to: zone3PSC1@gmail.com and they will be addressed.

 

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