By Editorial Board
When we relaunched this paper four years ago, we made an editorial decision early on to avoid reporting on routine shootings. (Yes, having enough shootings to distinguish the “routine” ones from those with an added level of significance speaks of a sad numbness we’re all accustomed to in this community.)
Some of the arguments we settled on: 1) shootings are so frequent it’s hard to stay on top of them, 2) they get picked up all the time by local TV news anyway... in which case, 3) let’s try a different tack by focusing on government accountability and digging out good news in the community.
So we did.
Since then, the scourge of gun violence has only escalated throughout Stowe and McKees Rocks.
In the first six months of this year, 10% of all homicides countywide took place within these two small municipalities. At approximately 12,000 combined inhabitants, their total share of the county’s population is around 1%.
More precious lives have since been lost to gun violence here. Others have only pulled through thanks to the swift actions of our first responders.
Against this backdrop, a staff member recently witnessed a non-fatal shooting from our office in the full light of day, and later wondered to the rest of the team whether, “perhaps, we’re doing the community a disservice by not reporting on shootings?”
The reasons not to are still intact.
The TV news rarely lets a stray bullet pass through the 15136 zone unreported, so there’s no information gap to remedy. Meanwhile, the same media show no interest in our local school boards and municipal governments - so why divert our thin resources elsewhere?
But to ignore the violence altogether is to ignore an existential crisis threatening our community.
The situation is now so bad that the undefeated Sto-Rox Vikings can no longer showcase their unstoppable success on the gridiron in front of home crowds because district officials harbor safety concerns. What a loss for those talented athletes. After another shooting claimed another life this week, safety concerns again left their mark on our students. This time the high school was shut down and classes moved temporarily online in the aftermath. Surely we can do better for them?
There are glimmers of light among the darkness, however.
Since early summer, a coalition of nonprofits, clergy and invested citizens have been meeting regularly to bring solutions to the table.
Several of these same leaders have developed relationships with those swept up in cycles of violence and are using their influence to show a different future is possible. This is hard work. This is admirable work.
One of the subcommittees formed from these talks is about to start distributing welcome baskets to every new resident who arrives in the school district community over the coming months.
What does this have to do with brutal shootings?
Well, nothing and everything.
On the one hand, it’s preposterous to think an anger-riddled teen caught up in drugs is going to renege on a planned shootout because his family received a hamper filled with well-intended gifts when they moved in several months prior. But perhaps this isn’t the point.
Maybe the point is that the next 40 individuals and families who move here will begin their time as residents with an undeniable message they’re joining a community that cares, despite its flaws and traumas.
This kind of unsolicited hospitality can be infectious. Maybe some will reciprocate by bringing cookies to a neighbor and introducing themselves. Maybe down the line, some of those newcomers will one day welcome new waves of incoming residents in a similar manner.
Of course we need to do much more.
We need to put in place the well-resourced violence prevention program several leaders are already working on. We need leadership that can champion responsible development, home ownership and present an attractive face to the outside world. We need school board leadership that can find resourceful ways to revive our cash-strapped school system. We need well-funded public safety departments that can balance public trust with effective law enforcement.
But none of this will take us very far if we don’t pull together as a community.
Above all, we need to restore pride in our community and care for our neighbor. These alone can generate the resilience needed to survive a violence epidemic and emerge one day stronger and healthier.