‘Nothing short of a public health emergency’…Gun violence placing irreparable harm on Pittsburgh’s teens

TWELVE YOUNG PEOPLE AGES 18 AND UNDER have been shot and killed in Allegheny County so far this year, as of Aug. 29. They include, from left, 17-year-old Mathew Steffy-Ross, 18-year-old Maleek Thomas, 18-year-old Amari Mitchell, and 1-year-old De’Avry Thomas.

More than half of Pittsburgh area young people have lost a family member to gun violence.

That statement arose from research conducted by the organizations CeaseFirePA and The Greater Pittsburgh Coalition against Violence; the research consisting of a survey of 391 at-risk young people in Allegheny County between June 7 and Aug. 10.

Other key findings from the survey found that 46 percent of area young people have personally witnessed gun violence at least once; 22 percent have witnessed gun violence four or more times; 86 percent of area young people are concerned that gun violence will impact them and their family’s health and safety; and 84 percent feel that nothing or only a little is being done to address the violence in their neighborhood, school or classroom.




“Gun violence is more of a reality in our children’s everyday lives than in the older segments of society,” said Rev. Eleanor Williams, president of the North Side Partnership Project, in a release provided to the New Pittsburgh Courier. The North Side Partnership Project is a youth-serving nonprofit that partnered with CeaseFirePA and The Greater Pittsburgh Coalition against Violence to distribute the survey to the young people in their program.

“The survey results are more than troubling and should bring a laser light to all of us as to how deep the pain of gun violence has impacted the lives and minds of our youth,” added Tim Stevens, Chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project and co-convener of The Greater Pittsburgh Coalition Against Violence.




In Allegheny County, 12 young people ages 18 and under have died due to gun violence this year, as of Aug. 29. They include: Marquis Campbell, 15, shot while inside a school van outside Oliver Citywide Academy (Jan 19); Teron Williams, 18, shot in the back in Bon Air (Feb. 23); Amari Mitchell, 18, shot in a vehicle in a triple shooting in Homestead (Feb. 27); Dayvon Vickers, 15, shot while on his bike in Homewood (March 30); 17-year-old Jaiden Brown and Mathew Steffy-Ross, shot while at an AirBnB house party on Easter Sunday, April 17; Avante Booker, 17, shot while in a home in a triple shooting in Wilkinsburg (April 19); Isaiah Dennis Anderson, 17, shot in a triple shooting in Allentown (May 9); 1-year-old De’Avry Thomas, shot while in a car in Downtown Pittsburgh (May 29); Maleek Thomas, 18, shot at Bedford Dwellings in the Hill District (June 24); Darrian Davis, shot in a double shooting in Hazelwood (July 1); and Alex Kowalyk, 16, shot while in a car in Uptown (Aug. 8). The first 11 young victims were Black; the 12th victim, Kowalyk, was White.




From CeaseFirePA’s perspective, the organization wants legislators in Harrisburg to enact tougher policies to reduce the number of illegal guns that are used in the majority of youth violence. Some of those actions would be for pending legislation to be passed that would require the reporting of lost and stolen firearms, and strengthening enforcement inspections of certain firearm dealers. CeaseFirePA said that studies show that some select firearm dealers are the source of many guns used in violent crimes.

“We are witnessing the mass traumatization of a generation, with long-term individual and societal consequences. It’s a tragedy—but with many shootings preventable through life-saving gun safety policies from Harrisburg—it’s also a man-made catastrophe,” said Josh Fleitman, Western PA Manager for CeaseFirePA, in a release provided to the Courier. “If the bloodshed so far has not shaken the conscience of many state legislators, I hope this survey’s chilling results will spur them to take urgent action.”

Sometimes, teens who die as a result of gun violence grab the headlines, but there are many others who were shot but, thankfully, did not die. This includes a juvenile male who was shot in the 2300 block of Atmore Street, North Side, around 11 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 26. He was shot in the arm, according to Pittsburgh Police. His name and identity were not made public.





And it also includes the non-fatal shootings of two 18-year-old females in Homewood, Aug. 4. A 20-year-old woman, Temani Lewis, of Wilkinsburg, was arrested in connection with the shooting.

“While the results of this survey are not surprising to those who work with young people and know how frequently gun violence plays into their lives, this effort to engage youth to better understand the impact is essential to developing meaningful solutions,” said Michael Yonas, vice president of Public Health, Research and Learning at The Pittsburgh Foundation, which provided grant support for the project, in a statement to the Courier. “The finding that 57 percent of nearly 400 youth surveyed reporting a family member being killed by a gun demonstrates the imperative to address the trauma. This is nothing short of a public health emergency.”



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