And The Band Played On….,

khlaid Photo1cropIn recent weeks, residents of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have been subject to an almost continuous onslaught of murder and aggravated assaults. Much of the murder and mayhem has occurred in working-class and low-income communities inhabited by the poor and people of color.

To date, there have been over fifty-five (55) homicides throughout Allegheny County. The murder victims have been disproportionately Black/New Afrikan males under the age of forty. Possible motives for the rash of shootings and killings include personal disputes, robbery, drugs, retaliation, neighborhood conflicts, police-involved and domestic argument.

I contend that such violence is rooted in decades of  racism, white-supremacy, self/group hatred, poverty and structural inequality.

While numerous individuals and community organizations scramble about in a frenzy of activities such as consoling family and friends of victims, helping with funerals, erecting memorials, a basic question remains unanswered: where is the outrage and sense of urgency?

No, not on the part of the communities. They continue to respond as best they know how, in spite of all the stereotypes, racist ridicule and structural inequalities heaped upon their neighborhoods and families.

They cry, plea, march, protest and rally for help and assistance in addressing the cycles and episodes of violence. A painful cycle  that others have become all too familiar with.

My question is directed to the public officials, corporate community and foundations: where is the outrage and sense of urgency from you? County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Council, Pittsburgh City Council.

And, lets not forget the Pittsburgh School Board under the leadership of Superintendent Linda Lane. How could you possibly close and consolidate schools and not have a plan for violence prevention and intervention?

Were you not advised, for example, that placing ALL NORTH SIDE  STUDENTS IN ONE HIGH SCHOOL could be problematic? Did you not prepare?

For our State Representatives and State Senators, the questions also apply.  Why has there been no coordinated and comprehensive plan to address urban violence in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County? Why are you able to expeditiously facilitate and pass legislation protecting police-dogs and exorbitant traffic tickets for veterans, but can’t seem to get it together to help coordinate and substantially fund violence prevention and intervention programs for the city and county.

The state legislature and Pittsburgh City Council had  little problem proposing, creating and facilitating the Land Bank legislation. Legislation, which ultimately will speed-up the displacement and dispersion of yet additional urban residents and populations.

Over two (2) years ago, myself and others such as Richard Garland from the University of Pittsburgh’s Violence Prevention Project privately and publicly shared our concerns about the deadly confluence of circumstances that were becoming commonplace throughout the Pittsburgh area. For example, the following:

  •  persistent double-digit unemployment within the Black/New Afrikan community
  • over 40% unemployment for Black youth,
  • school closings AND consolidations
  • the closing and demolition of public housing
  • with corresponding population displacement and dispersion

I personally submitted a proposal to Allegheny County (County Executives’ Office) that addressed the need for comprehensive proactive and strategic efforts at violence prevention and intervention, but never heard from them.

After convening and operating your ‘Public Health Commission’ for over a year, you finally produced a report( in June of 2014. Meanwhile, the shootings and homicides continued throughout the years and have never abated.

City and county public officials can ‘find money’ to support all types of special projects and initiatives, but can’t seem to muster the political will to provide strategic long-term funding for violence prevention and intervention initiatives that benefit  Black and low-income communities.

The foundations are no better. They expect groups and organizations to ‘walk on water’, ‘feed multitudes’ and do mountains of work with basically no substantive funding. They devalue our work and the neighborhoods and communities that we live and work in. However, they don’t blink about funding the opera or some pet project for twenty consecutive years!

The foundation community also seems to have no problem funding long-term initiatives that ultimately will lead to gentrification and improvements for those moving into those targeted neighborhoods (for example, Hazelwood, East Liberty, North Side). Although, not stated, this approach condemns the current residents to a miserable existence, with eventual displacement as the cure. Their families and communities are being sacrificed for the future benefit of  the middle-to-upper income white-folks or ‘hipsters’.

It seems as though many of our public officials and so-called community leaders are more concerned with protecting the image and myth of Pittsburgh as the ‘most livable city’ and lining their pockets with money from developers, instead of providing a decent quality of life for some of our most vulnerable and exploited citizens. Even as I write this commentary, yet another person has been murdered. Their body was just discovered in North View Heights. The people need help now.


Justice In Our Lifetime,

Khalid Raheem


One response to “And The Band Played On….,

  1. Thanks Brother Khalid for your thorough, timely and candid comments. Two years ago I presented a similar statement to city council. No response. The death of our children and others solidifies the Public Good to marginalize and displace particularly black residents. Unfortunately, each of us are attempting to work as best we can where we can without support. That approach is not working. Thanks again for your comment. Talk to you soon. Dianne Billie Swan

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