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Activists focus on curbing violence against African Americans

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"Welcome to Clipsburgh, Pistolvania," activist Paradise Gray told a Feb. 8 press conference at the Hill House. "That's what our children are calling this."

And it's what violence-prevention advocates are calling it as well -- in less colorful terms. But while dozens of community activists, along with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and other elected officials, attended the gathering to decry the fact, it's not clear what should be done about it.

Pennsylvania has the highest rate of homicide among blacks in the United States, according to a report by the Violence Policy Center, a Washington-based anti-gun advocacy group. Using FBI crime data from 2004, the center found that for every 100,000 African Americans living in Pennsylvania, nearly 30 will be murdered a year. Nationwide, the murder rate for blacks is less than 18 homicides per 100,000.

"They're spending billions on Homeland Security," Gray added. "Can we spend some money on Homewood security?"

Speakers complained that neighborhood rivalries were responsible for much of the carnage, among them was 14-year-old Michael Turner, who said that black youth today were "creeping through the minefields of life. It's no longer an obstacle course. ... I'm from Homewood [so] technically I'm a Crip. ... That's how they take it."

"White people are not killing us; we are killing us," said Tim Stevens, who heads the Black Political Empowerment Project. And the black community "must take the lead" in ending violence.

Those hosting the event are planning a future work session to "identify implementation strategies," as Stevens put it. But if the press conference was any indication, there is still disagreement on what the real problems are, let alone how they should be solved. Some speakers complained of "militaristic" tactics by police; others suggested that police were getting little support from the communities that need protection.

Gun control proved similarly contentious. The VPC noted that 86 percent of black homicides in Pennsylvania were committed with a firearm. "Somebody is manufacturing these guns, and somebody is bringing them in to our community," Stevens complained.

Other speakers took a more NRA-friendly tack. Greg Allen, who said his brother had been fatally shot just over a week before the event, said, "The solution isn't to get rid of the guns, because a gun didn't kill my brother. What killed my brother is a demon called sin."

Local street minister Sheldon Stoudemire, who was clad in camo fatigues, sounded a similar theme, saying that the cause of violence couldn't be addressed as long as it was "politically incorrect" to talk about Jesus.

Ravenstahl called the state's No. 1 ranking "unacceptable," and pledged to work with community leaders in lowering it. "This has been a very uncomfortable press conference in many ways," Ravenstahl added.

The work session will be held at the Hill House on Feb. 20 at 6 p.m.

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