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Pittsfield Community To Gather In Wake Of Teen Shooting

The Pittsfield city seal
The City of Pittsfield, Massachusetts
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The city of Pittsfield will hold a community meeting tonight in response to a recent shooting involving two teenagers.The shooting August 18th around 9 a.m. near a busy gas station at the corner of Tyler and First St. sent a 17-year-old male to Berkshire Medical Center. Police arrested a 15-year-old male believed to be the shooter. Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn says as of Friday, the victim was in stable condition at BMC. The ages of those involved and suspected gang influence shocked members of the community, according to Mayor Dan Bianchi.

“To think that this was a solution in the minds of these young people…that the situation they found themselves in could only be resolved the way it was, I find that shocking,” Bianchi said. “I find the fact that young people their age had access to a weapon, I find that shocking. So I think that’s why we have to have a real heart-to-heart community discussion.”

Because they are juveniles, the names of those involved have not been released. As police continue to investigate, they are asking witnesses to come forward. Chief Wynn says over the past three years his department has worked to get a handle on gangs, whose members are becoming increasingly younger. Wynn says this is a community problem that will take a community solution.

“Somebody is aware that these kids have armed themselves,” Wynn said. “Somebody is aware that they have a beef with another party. Somebody is aware that they don’t feel comfortable or secure. If those people who are aware of that aren’t working with us and telling us then all we can do is respond. But if friends, family members, community members are aware that these behaviors are ongoing and that they’ve taken that step of arming themselves and they let us know, then we can intervene.”

The mayor, Chief Wynn, and school, community and religious leaders will serve as panel members at the meeting. The community discussion will be moderated by Adams Hinds, the city’s Shannon Grant coordinator focused on gang prevention.

“The fact that it was a gang incident really triggered our involvement, the Pittsfield Community Connection program and the involvement of our outreach workers, to try to minimize, as a first priority, any retaliation attacks,” Hinds said. “So we’ve done that in a number of ways that include reaching out to the friends of those involved to send a very strong message that any efforts to retaliate should not involve guns and really explore any opportunities for changing the way this is handled.”

Hinds adds that outreach workers do try to intervene when they are aware of potential violence, but had no warnings in this situation. He says in the wake of the shooting many people called City Hall asking how something like this could happen and what is being done to prevent such incidents. He disagrees with those who have expressed a sense of powerlessness in preventing such violence.

“An incident like this I think underscores the importance of coming together and really in a way locking in the kids that might be at risk of this behavior and locking out any bad activity,” Hinds said. “So it means from neighbors to coaches to business leaders, clergy and down the line there’s a real need for standing up when you see children in need and standing up when children are acting out.”

Superintendent of Pittsfield’s Public Schools Dr. Jason McCandless says faculty and staff understand the important role they play in a young person’s life beyond merely academics. He says anti-bullying and safety programs beginning in kindergarten along with afterschool activities offer positive alternatives for kids who might struggle to find good influences outside school.

“But there are still students who have to look to other, less positive alternatives to find that sense of family and community and belonging,” McCandless said. “I think what we would hear from kids is that it’s great all of things that what we offer, but we need to offer more. And we maybe need to offer more right where students are.”

McCandless says city schools will be reviewing security measures as the school year begins.

“Also really looking at who are our students who are going to be most directly affected by an event like this and who are our students who are most at risk for being involved in a situation like this,” McCandless said. “Digging in with them personally as the school year opens. Making sure they know they have a place to go where they can be safe and where they can get help if they are being pulled in by a vacuum into this type of a situation.”

Mayor Bianchi says city outreach workers, including those who have committed crimes and spent time behind bars, serve as mentors for teenagers who may be turning to crime. Bianchi adds that the majority of the city’s youth are well directed and that Pittsfield is statistically a safe city with lower violent crime rates than many urban areas. Regardless, he says no child should fall through the cracks.

“I think as a community we’ve got to reach out and let our young people know, especially those who are exposing themselves in that way, that there’s a better future for them than a life behind bars…or no life at all because of violence,” said Bianchi.

Monday’s meeting starts at 6 at Morningside Community School.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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