WENDOLL, a 15-year-old Pittsburgh-area resident, speaks on the impact gun violence has on him as a teen. He was part of WAMO 107.3’s “Stop the Music, Stop the Violence” forum, heard on the radio, June 10. The forum was hosted by WAMO’s Kiki Brown, left. (Photo by Rob Taylor Jr.)
Teens carry guns ‘for protection,’ classmates say
When WAMO 107.3 afternoon host Kiki Brown asked 16-year-old Marionna if she has lost friends to gun violence in the Pittsburgh area, she said yes.
“Multiple people? More than three?” Brown then asked.
With a look of sadness, Marionna again said, yes.
Usually, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey is in front of the microphone, the television cameras in firm focus, as he discusses his disdain for the gun violence in Pittsburgh and initiatives he’s implementing to help stop the violence.
Friday, June 10, was a different tune. The mayor, fully masked, sat in the audience as local teens were the ones expressing their opinions on the violence, and most importantly, how it’s affecting them.
It was part of WAMO’s “Stop the Music, Stop the Violence” town hall, where six students were featured in the hour-long discussion that aired on WAMO at noon. The program was also simulcasted on KDKA Radio (100.1 FM, 1020 AM). Brown asked students everything from if they feel safe at school, to if they feel safe in their neighborhood.
Students’ full names and school names were not used during the program.
Pertaining to the gun violence, Marionna said oftentimes, she found herself asking, “Why is it happening,” and would then isolate herself from a lot of people. “Sometimes, they were there at the wrong time at the wrong place,” Marionna said about the people she’s lost. “Sometimes I think, ‘I wish I would have said this, I wish I would have said that,’” to her friends before their passing.
Marionna is not alone. Countless teens in the Pittsburgh area have lost friends and family members to gun violence, as statistics show multiple young people dying each year in Allegheny County. So far in 2022 as of June 13, four 17-year-olds, two 15-year-olds, two 18-year-olds and three 19-year-olds have been killed in the county. One-year-old De’Avry Thomas was also killed in a drive-by shooting the day before Memorial Day. He was not the intended target.
“A lot of times, I see it in my school that we’re (the students) following and not leading,” voiced 16-year-old Jazmiere. “That’s what gets you into more trouble with the violence and gun violence. I feel like people don’t think that leading is OK. You can be different. Being different does stand out, so don’t try to follow, try to lead.”
JAZMIERE, 16, speaks during WAMO’s “Stop the Music, Stop the Violence” program, June 10. (Photos by Rob Taylor Jr.)
Jazmiere also said that her peers oftentimes don’t have a clear idea of their future professions. “So they just hop onto something that they see somebody else doing,” she said.
With Mayor Gainey looking on, Jazmiere said the City of Pittsburgh could help introduce young people to new professions through a variety of programs. Fifteen-year-old Aryana agreed. “Make them feel like they actually have a chance because they do. They have a chance at doing something great and being somebody. Nobody is telling these people that they can be anybody.”
Brown brought up the tragic shooting that occurred on Easter Sunday morning, April 17, at an AirBnB on the North Side, where two teens were killed and nearly ten others were wounded. The party had hundreds of young people in attendance, and video from inside and outside the residence showed a chaotic scene, teens running for their lives as Pittsburgh Police estimated that more than 125 gunshots were fired in and around the AirBnB location beginning around 12:30 a.m.
“I had multiple people that I know at the party at the time of the shooting,” revealed 15-year-old Wendoll. “I immediately called them to see if they were OK.”
Wendoll said that these days, he’s scared to go out of the house, and isn’t trying to go to any local parties. “Honestly, it’s life, it’s a risk we all have to take,” he said. “We can’t live in fear, but then again, you also have to make sure you’re prepared and mindful of your surroundings.”
Marionna said her friend was at the party, too. Her friend was not hurt.
ARYANA, 15, speaks during WAMO’s “Stop the Music, Stop the Violence” program, June 10.
When Brown then asked the students if they knew of young people who carry a gun, some students, such as 16-year-old Samaya, answered in the affirmative. Samaya said some young people carry guns mainly for protection. “It’s sad that teenagers have to have a gun to feel safe, and it’s just not right,” she said.
Most of the students agreed that “it’s hard” to be a teenager these days. Teens have to worry about violence, interactions with police, and, in some cases, a less-than-ideal family dynamic. Some students discussed how their parents can’t understand their children’s issues. The students said parents feel as though the kids should have no problems because the parents provide “a roof over their head,” and food, etc.
“Our parents don’t want us to fall in their footsteps, so they pressure us to do better than them,” Samaya said. “But sometimes we just need our mom or dad to hear us out. Sometimes, it goes deeper than, ‘I give you clothes,’ ‘You have food to eat.’”
“Parents, sometimes we just need y’all to listen,” added Marionna. “Hear us out. We don’t need feedback sometimes. When we get feedback, it makes it worse sometimes.”
And when it comes to school security, most of the students, such as 11-year-old Dean, want to see more security in their schools, the Uvalde, Tex., deadly school shooting fresh on their minds.
Pittsburgh Public Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Wayne Walters and a representative from Pittsburgh Police were in attendance at the forum. They took mental notes about the students’ desire to see more security in and around schools, as did Mayor Gainey. When the forum ended, the mayor told reporters hearing from the students was exactly what he needed to hear.
“Sometimes, when you hear from advocacy groups, they talk about less police,” Mayor Gainey said. “But what I heard from our kids today is that they want to see more police, because that’s how they feel safe in schools…We’re not talking about how we criminalize kids, that’s not what I heard them say about more security in the schools. They feel more safe when we have more security in the school and that’s a voice that had to be heard. And it could only be (said) by our kids.”