It’s a Wednesday afternoon on Brighton Road in Marshall-Shadeland, one of the North Side’s two dozen neighborhoods. A small business district runs along the street. There’s a bar, a pizza shop, a bank and a corner store. Two groups of adults are outside talking. One group surrounds a table in front of a barbershop and a few others stand gathered in front of a specialty store.
The two groups are racially mixed, like the neighborhood. According to data from the most recent U.S. Census, the neighborhood’s racial makeup is split nearly down the middle: 50 percent white and 43 percent black.
Behind the business district sits the Woods Run Branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and behind that is a playground where two men are taking turns going down the slide with young children.
But this area of the North Side isn’t as idyllic as it seems. Recently, four of the businesses on Brighton Road were robbed within the same week. And the playground behind the library is allegedly a hotspot for drug activity.
Twenty-two-year-old Stephen Flaherty is on his way home from the corner store. A few weeks ago he was shot multiple times. Lifting up his shirt he shows off his scars: one just below his rib cage, what looks like a recent incision running down his sternum, and a bullet still in his body just underneath the skin by his hipbone.
“I think it’s a safe neighborhood,” says Flaherty. “I’ve lived here all my life.”
Flaherty’s refrain is somewhat common in the neighborhood despite the fact that so far this summer, Marshall-Shadeland has seen four people injured in three shootings and one person killed. Two of the shootings happened within two days of each other. Twenty-two-year-old Christian Rash has been charged in connection with those shootings, which police allege began after an altercation between Rash’s girlfriend and a family member of one of the victims. The third shooting occurred eight days later, on July 25, days after City Paper walked through the neighborhood talking to residents. Police say Lamar Thomas was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head in his Stayton Street barbershop. The shooting remains under investigation; police haven’t reported a motive.
But these numbers mean nothing to many local residents, who use a diverse palette to describe the neighborhood in broad strokes. Sure there’s crime, some say, but it doesn’t mean the neighborhood is unsafe. Others claim crime in the neighborhood has increased in recent years, but that development hasn’t caused business owners to flee. And either way, many agree it’s an improvement from the rampant gang violence in the North Side throughout the 1980s and ’90s.
“The place has its problems,” says Dave McCarthy, owner of Wise Guys Pizza. “I generally feel safe. But we close at 10.”
And Marshall-Shadeland residents’ suggestions for how to address the violence there are just as varied.
“The area is what the area is,” says McCarthy. “There’s not one thing that’s going to fix it. Maybe it’s low income. It could be drugs. It could be the lack of homeownership.”
Another individual who works in the neighborhood and asked to be referred to by his first name, Tyrone, says the recent shootings in the neighborhood are the result of open gun access.
“When you have a weapon, it increases your aggression level. No one’s addressing the weapons,” Tyrone says. “Our young men are being pulled over every day with stolen guns. Where’s a 16-year-old getting an M-16 with two banana clips?”
Barber Eddie Bell, owner of Steel City Cutz, says he thought the neighborhood was safe when he opened his business on Brighton Road six years ago. But three years ago a shot was fired through one of the windows of his barbershop, and since then things haven’t improved.
“It’s crazy out here,” Bell says. “It’s been a bad summer.”
Bell says the neighborhood would see a decline in crime and violence if residents were willing to cooperate with law enforcement when they have information about an incident.
“If I see it I’m telling, but everybody isn’t like that,” Bell says. “That’s the only way it’s going to be fixed.”
But another local, who spoke with City Paper on the condition of anonymity, said he understands why residents tend not to come forward with information.
“Say you see something and you go to the police and then the next day it’s your kid lying on the sidewalk,” he says. “People are scared.
“There’s a lot of knuckleheads. But there’s a lot of good people here.”