In Wake Of Shooting, Pittsfield Community Highlights Need For Involvement And Opportunity
More than 200 people turned out for a community meeting in Pittsfield, Massachusetts Monday night to address concerns in the wake of a shooting involving two teenagers last week.People lined the walls of the gym at Morningside Community School to talk about ways to address youth and gang violence in the city. One of those who spoke was Dolores Wright. She says her grandson, Deshon Taylor, is the 17-year-old who was shot around 9 a.m. August 18thnear the busy intersection of Tyler and First St.
“This breaks my heart that my grandson is laying there,” Wright said, holding back tears. “But I don’t hold blame on the community.”
Wright says Taylor was on his way to work when he was shot. Police have not officially released the victim’s name but said he was in stable condition at Berkshire Medical Center. Pittsfield Police have arrested a 15-year-old male believed to be the shooter. His name has not been released because he is a juvenile.
Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn has been working with the city for the past 20 years. Noting he had never seen a turnout like the one Monday night, he says youth and gang violence is a community problem that demands a community solution.
“I’m concerned,” Wynn said. “Honestly, I’m more than concerned. I’m at the point of being scared because our investigations are showing that we’re reaching a point where people think its okay to not to cooperate. People think it’s OK not to provide information. People think it’s OK to know that something bad is about to happen and not tell somebody. We understand there are concerns about retribution and we understand you may not want to be involved, we get that. We’ll take it anonymously. But every one of these young gang members who is leaving home everyday armed, somebody who loves that child knows they have a gun and if they have a problem and if they are looking to solve it themselves. If you don’t tell us before it happens, we’ll be knocking on your door after it happens either to deliver bad news or to ask you to come in and sit in the interview when we’re interviewing them on a charge of attempted murder.”
Valerie Hamilton was one of many who asked questions of the panel members, which included police, school, community and city leaders. At one point, she asked the crowd to stand up and raise their hands in the air.
“This is what it feels like when the kids are looking down the barrel of a gun,” Hamilton said. “We have left them hopeless.”
Panel member Eddie Taylor is CEO of the S.E.E.D Network, which stands for Social Education Engaging Diversity.
“This is due to a lack of economic opportunity, social engagement and fear,” Taylor said. “If we’re not willing to address this, then this is all a waste of time.”
A large part of the nearly two-hour long discussion centered around what programs are available for young people so they aren’t idle, especially during the summer when school is out. Former gang member Mike Williams is an outreach worker with the Pittsfield Community Connection, a state-funded program focused on gang prevention by involving teens in positive activities.
“We have to give them an option of things to do,” Williams said. “If we don’t want them out running the streets gangbanging and selling drugs we have to give them alternatives.”
Panel members brought up initiatives like a summer literacy and recreational program at Pitt Park, recently reopened community centers and the Boys and Girls Club as options. Community members advocated for more funding to expand program and center hours and offer jobs to young people. Adults like Sabrina Powell also asked how they could get involved.
“The people that are implementing these programs don’t look like our kids,” Powell said. “Not to say you can’t be effective, but you need to couple with people that look like us. It’s not about black. It’s not about white. But it’s about what’s going to make you have that comfort zone.”
Including at-risk youth and gang members in the conversation was a point made throughout the night. Attendees also said it can be difficult for teenagers to relate to adults on the opposite side of a generational gap. Bianca Carlos-Mendonsa, owner of B’s Exclusive Gear, started Save Our Streets, a message that she plastered on white T-shirts. Profit from the shirt sales is split between printing more and community initiatives.
“This is our county, it’s our city and it’s up to us to step up as individuals,” said Carlos-Mendonsa.
City officials plan to use the community’s comments to develop an action plan to further address root causes of youth and gang violence.