Many in the Black community are skeptical of, and yet concerned about, new safety measures that will be implemented at Monroeville Mall after a tragic incident that took place at the crowded mall. On Feb. 7, 17-year-old Tarod Thornhill, of Penn Hills, opened fire on a male in the lower level of Macy’s department store, near the store’s entrance to the mall area, hitting his intended target, Davon Jones, and two other innocent bystanders, Thomas and Mary Singleton.
Thornhill fled the mall, but was later captured in Brackenridge after authorities matched an Instagram photo with images from a surveillance camera. He is being charged as an adult with aggravated assault, attempted homicide and recklessly endangering other people. As of last check, they were in critical condition.
This was the third incident to take place at the mall in two months. In December there was a large brawl that erupted among hundreds of teens, causing the mall to close early; and in January there was a robbery.
Since last Saturday’s incident, Monroeville Mall announced there will be new security measures put in place that include more security and a Youth Escort Policy where youth under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian 21 or over on Fridays and Saturdays after 6 p.m. It will go into effect Feb. 27. The policy will not include department stores with exterior entrances or the Cinemark movie theater. Teens who work in the mall will still be able to work during those hours and will be given a special identification.
“I think the implementation of the Youth Escort Policy will help to maintain the family-friendly environment that we strive for at Monroeville Mall,” said Stacey Keating, spokeswoman and Corporate Marketing Specialist for CBL & Associates Properties Inc., owners of the mall. She also said that since the incident, Monroeville Police patrols were increased this week and will remain through the weekend; and after this weekend, the number of officers needed will be evaluated on an ongoing basis and adjustments will be made as seen fit.
Although many feel new security measures are needed, some are skeptical of how well they will work and suggest that even stronger measures are needed than the ones proposed.
“What about during the week? What about the (people) ppl over 21 that mess follows them as u can see,” Sheree Morris, posted as a comment on the New Pittsburgh Courier’s Facebook page in response to several questions posed to the community.
Karen Bobo Cunningham wrote on the Courier’s page, “In light of the violence at Monroeville Mall, I believe that strong measures should be taken to prevent occurrences… That mall is a popular shopping location, and worth more of an investment—as far as security measures. I think that stronger safety measures should be put in place.” She went on to suggest that metal detectors as well as security or police officers be placed at each mall entry point; that security or an officer should use surveillance to monitor every angle of the mall during mall hours.
“Either way, innocent shoppers—should be afforded more to insure their safety. Not satisfied, with current option–it is just not enough, in my opinion,” Cunningham wrote.
Although some have expressed that they will continue to shop at that mall, few have expressed they will not.
Along with skepticism of the new measures comes concern that they will be used to unjustly profile Black youth who visit the mall.
Kenneth Huston, president of the Allegheny East Unit of the NAACP, which represents the areas of Monroeville, Murrysville, Plum, Pitcairn and Wilmerding, said the new security measures are a good step, but is concerned that they may lead to racial profiling.
“I understand the safety aspect, but at the same time let’s not start profiling the Black youth. I don’t want the (Monroeville police) chief and the mayor (of Monroeville) to use a broad brush to paint all of our youth, because all of our youth are not violent. The measure can be enforced without putting a bullseye on the back of every Black youth that comes to the mall,” he said. “And from the NAACP position for the Allegheny East Unit, we won’t tolerate that.”
When asked about how the new policy will ensure that Black youth aren’t targeted, Keating said the policy is not about race, but rather a large number of youth and young adults, some in the hundreds, who visit the mall on weekend nights and engage in disruptive behavior.
Huston said he doesn’t fear his safety at the mall, in fact, the unit will continue its plans to host a Black History Month Celebration and Membership Drive scheduled to take place Feb. 21 at Wingharts in Monroeville Mall.
The Monroeville Mall shooting was not the only incident to take place over the weekend involving violence among youths. Hours before the shooting, a fistfight broke out between a large group of teenagers at Ross Park Mall; it is not connected to shooting and no one was seriously injured. Also on Feb. 8, three teenagers who were socializing on a porch in the 7100 block of Kedron Street, in Homewood, were hit with bullets when a black SUV pulled up and opened fire. All the victims were taken to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital. One teen suffered multiple shots to the head and upper body, another teen suffered wounds to the leg and the other was grazed in the arm. Assistant Pittsburgh Police Chief Maurita Bryant owns the home where the youth were gathered, however she was not there and is not believed to be the intended target.
While the new safety measures are a temporary fix, there are overall issues that still need to be addressed. Huston said there needs to be a more hands on approach when dealing with youth instead of having meetings and conversations; that youth need to be met where they are; that they need to be talked with, not talked at; and that we, as a community, need to work “to build leadership among the youth to work with their peers.” He also mentioned the need for more summer job training programs, which is “a way to build a work acumen as well as keep (youth) out of trouble.”
But it’s not only the communities’ responsibility to address the needs of youth; Huston said parents need to take more responsibility as well.
“Black people particularly, and youth specifically, are always seen as being violent or uncontrolling and that’s very unfortunate because that’s not the case. But we, as Black parents, have to take some responsibility for our youth as well. Often times we try to make excuses why our Black youth are the way they are,” Huston said. “But we have had a deterioration of character and values in the Black family; we have deteriorated our values as a people. And we’re always looking to government to solve our problems as a people and the government can’t do everything.”
(For more information on the Youth Escort Policy, visit www.MonroevilleMall.com.)
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