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Speakers Call For Continued Action Following Pittsfield Shooting

A call to action resounded Friday during a Stop The Violence Vigil in Pittsfield in the wake of a deadly July 4th shooting that injured several others.Valerie Hamilton was the first in a line of speakers urging the more than 100 people gathered on the lawn of the Christian Center to do their part to stop violence.

“We cannot afford to have another young man murdered in the streets of Pittsfield,” said Hamilton. This is not a black problem. This is not a West Side problem. This is a Pittsfield problem.”

The crowd stood a block from the scene of a multiple-gun shooting that killed 25-year-old Ronald Pinel and injured several more. The shooting happened in a vacant lot next to the Price Memorial AME Zion Church.

“We had a child that died right down on the corner of our street,” Hamilton said. “Bullets went through the church. Thank God we weren’t there. They bounced off the pews and went through the rows of the church.”

A 20-year-old man remains at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. Jermaine Sistrunk says his daughter was hurt in the shooting.

“I appreciate these rallies,” Sistrunk said. “As a society one of the things that we’ve done for so long is we’ve been reactive to things. This a reaction to what happened. I’m an individual that learned that we need to be proactive.”

Sistrunk, who coaches basketball at Taconic High School and runs athletics camps, says he used to be part of the problem.

“If we allow the kids to be out here, late night doing God knows what, then of course they’re going to do it,” Sistrunk said. “So before we start pointing fingers at the school or the program that they didn’t get the greatest help from, let’s look inside first and say ‘Did I allow my 14-year-old son to be out after 8 o’clock when the Boys Club is closed?’”

Members of the Pittsfield Community Connection and others wore neon green shirts that read “Stop The Violence – Walk To Save Our Youth” which area activists first used following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. The Community Connection program is the product of public meetings that started last summer after two teenagers were involved in a gang-related shooting near a busy Tyler Street intersection in broad daylight. The city’s Shannon Grant coordinator, dedicated to gang and youth violence prevention, runs the program. A mentoring effort was recently launched with an initial class 30 adult mentors and mentees. Mayor Dan Bianchi is encouraging residents to take ownership of their neighborhoods through watch groups.

“We don’t have to be satisfied with the level of violence that we see,” Bianchi said.. “We shouldn’t be satisfied with it. And believe me we are working day and night to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”

Bianchi says police patrols were also increased near the shooting scene. The Berkshire District Attorney’s office has not released details of the investigation other than to say it remains active. Pittsfield Police have referred inquiries to the DA, whose office had no update as of Monday morning.

Sistrunk doesn’t think the shooting was gang-related and instead resulted from a personal issue. Nineteen-year-old college student Nyanna Slaughter, whose parents are active community members, read an original poem directed to the city’s youth.

“We need to protect and look out for our youth, but we can’t expect those with higher authority to get it done,” Slaughter said. “We as the youth need to. We need to change our mindsets, change our outlooks, change our goals and most importantly change our hearts.”

Nyanna’s father, Manny Slaughter, called on the city to put lights in the vacant lot where the July 4th shooting happened. He also talked about creating a “good neighbor fund” for taxpayers to donate money for gang, violence and drug prevention.

“This may be an edgy topic, but I’m holding the landlords responsible,” Manny Slaughter said. “What is your responsibility when you know you got gangbangers and drug dealers in your apartments and all you worry about is the rent money?’”

Warren Dews of Price Memorial invited the crowd to his church for a follow up meeting at 6 p.m. July 17th

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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