Photo by Jamie Wiggan Lee Davis, Allegheny County’s violence prevention coordinator, speaks to community members about solutions to the “violence epidemic” plaguing the area.
By Editorial Board
Since the start of the year, six people have already lost their lives to gun violence in McKees Rocks and Stowe.
Many more have suffered hospitalizing wounds from the ceaseless skirmishes rattling through our community, and more still have suffered from the waves of trauma that reverberate endlessly outward from each act of violence, leaving their mark on a mother, a father, a cousin, a nephew...
Ultimately, the dark cloud of gun violence stretches across the whole community and casts its gloom over all. We grow weary and suspicious, and we take our frustrations to the fabulously unproductive world of social media, where bitterness and resentment snuff out any sparks of hope or healing.
Thankfully, a dedicated group of community leaders have been searching for real solutions by convening in-person workshops with members of the public.
Bringing together non-profit leaders with school board officials, law enforcement representatives and ordinary residents is an essential start to the process of healing. Getting this off the ground and getting people to show up is a challenge in itself, and an indicator the community is finally ready for change.
The real challenge, though, is in making that change happen. Sophisticated intervention programs have their place, but they must actually do what the name implies, namely, intervene.
When smart people with backgrounds in civic policy get together in a room, the temptation can be to imagine gun violence as an intellectual problem to be solved through deduction and analysis.
In reality, the problem lies inside complex human beings who defy our models and projections. At its best, programming can bring the needed expertise and resources to steer those at risk of succumbing to the path of violence onto a better course.
More fundamentally, though, real change must come from the whole community, in the form of tangible action.
After a recent workshop wrapped up late on a weekday evening, a young community member was shuffling in and out of the meeting place giving away boxes of uneaten pizza to children playing on the streets around the Hays Manor public housing complex.
He introduced himself during the meeting as a Sto-Rox graduate who had rebranded himself as a mentor to the young after emerging from a troubled period in his own youth. He emphasized the value of developing relationships with those connected to violence as the only true way to stem the tide of bloodshed.
His tangible acts of service serve as a challenging reminder that at some point we must stop talking and start doing.
Community-wide change doesn’t require everyone to fraternize with gang members in hopes of exuding a positive influence. (For most of us, that would probably be foolish.)
For some, it might mean a small shift in attitude such as deciding not to post online that unhelpful remark about “nothing ever changing in this community.” For others, it might mean reigning in our inner judgments and considering the trauma and deprivation that drives children to slay each other mercilessly.
All of us can find some ways of being a better neighbor and building bridges of trust in place of fear and violence.
Dedicated community leaders are working hard to implement a comprehensive intervention plan, and we hope they can pull it off and yield results. But we hope the whole community will pitch in and pull their weight, too.