Hundreds rail against violence at meeting in Homewood
Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Curt Chandler, Post-Gazette
Karen Gilliam, who said her son Ivan Pegues died in a Dec. 2003 shooting, addresses the panel on neighborhood violence in Homewood during a community meeting at Faison Elementary School.

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By Moustafa Ayad
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Curt Chandler, Post-Gazette
Stephen Chatman, of the federal Weed and Seed program, talks of the courage it takes to testify against violent criminals in a neighborhood.

Click photo for larger image.

More than 300 people crowded into the Faison Elementary School gymnasium in Homewood last night, a community enraged at the escalation of gun violence and its debilitating effects in their neighborhood streets, spoke out in frustration for solutions and solidarity.

Passionate testimonials from more than 300 community leaders, local activists and the heads of various social services and input from city, state and county officials filled a town meeting called by city Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle to address neighborhood violence, especially among black youth.

"As a black man I cannot continue to allow these deaths in our community," said Jim Tarpley, of Wilkinsburg.

"We are the only race of people on this entire planet Earth that allows genocide on our people and in our communities. We are allowing people to profit off of our own demise."

The crowd addressed a panel that included Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, Pittsburgh NAACP President M. Gayle Moss, Pittsburgh Police Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr. and Pittsburgh mayoral candidate Bob O'Connor.

Curt Chandler, Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh NAACP president M. Gayle Moss says residents must be able to trust in being safe if they testify against criminals.

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Residents turned the forum into a debate, with participants demanding more than just community talk, but community action.

Chief McNeilly assured the crowd that police officers were being deployed to their district and told the crowd that police officers patrolling their streets were making one felony arrest a day in their neighborhood.

The chief stressed that while seeing more police on the streets would seem to stem the tide of violence, more information from concerned residents was needed to make arrests.

Angry residents fired back that the police were not doing enough to protect them in the first place and trusting the police for protection was not a viable option.

Ms. Moss told the crowd that while five or six people in a car could drive through Homewood selling drugs at their whim, the same five or six "would get stopped before getting across Murray Avenue."

The panel's responses seemed to steer the community toward a goal of uniting its community organizations, connecting the dots between social services and convening more meetings in hopes of generating solutions to gun violence.

Curt Chandler, Post-Gazette

Police Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr. says statistics show violent crime is falling in Homewood.

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"We need to address the hopelessness of our community," said the Rev. Ricky Burgess of Nazarene Baptist Church, a lifelong resident of Homewood and a panelist. "Enough is enough. We need a consensus that we are going to work together for a solution."

"It's not all I can do," Ms. Carlisle told the crowd. "I need you all to back me. It's not just my issue, it's your issue."

Ms. Carlisle's own district has been plagued with 700 incidents of gun violence since May 2004

"Until we have a viable and safer community, no businesses are coming to Homewood," she said.

While members of the community chastised and empathized with the panel to respond to the effects of street violence in Homewood, members of the panel attempted to console frustrated residents with statistics and the hope of grant money that could be redistributed into their district.

Curt Chandler, Post-Gazette
Councilwoman Twwanda Carlisle says everyone must help fight violence in Homewood.

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Mr. Onorato said he would have no problem trying to find funds to protect Homewood's streets if he knew where the money could be used most effectively.

Leaders of grass-roots organizations told residents they need to get involved or else nothing would change out on the street.

"In the African-American community we have always made it in spite of -- not because of," said Esther Bush, president of Pittsburgh's Urban League. "We cannot be afraid of our own children. I'm telling you I do not fear a black child."

Audio archive

You may listen to last night's Homewood community meeting in its entirety by clicking here to download a 28MB mp3-format audio file. You may view more pictures from the meeting in the daily photo journal.

John Heller, Post-Gazette
Alice Holmes, a retired teacher and Homewood home owner of 47 years, applauds a speaker at the community meeting.
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First published on October 25, 2005 at 12:00 am
Moustafa Ayad can be reached at or 412-263-1731.
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