TEMANI LEWIS AND HER DAUGHTER, KAARI THOMPSON, WERE KILLED IN DEC. 2022. TARAE WASHINGTON WAS KILLED IN JANUARY 2023. JASMINE GUEST WAS KILLED IN 2021.
A COURIER SPECIAL REPORT
43 Black women and girls have been killed in Allegheny County since 2020.
by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer
In the past three years, African American women and girls were killed in Allegheny County at a disturbing, and what some call frightening, rate.
Within the period of 2012 to 2019, only in one year (2016) were 10 or more Black women and girls killed in the county. But at least 10 Black women and girls were killed in the county in each of the past three years (2020, 2021, 2022).
And to make matters worse, two of the first four homicides in Allegheny County in 2023 were Black women. Though it’s early, the number of Black women and girls killed in the county by the end of 2023 could be the highest number in a single year ever, if the unfortunate trend continues.
The New Pittsburgh Courier combed through the homicide data kept by Allegheny County as far back as 2012. The data shows that in 2022, 11 Black women and girls were killed. In 2021, the number was 17. In 2020, the number was 13. That’s 41 Black women and girls killed in Allegheny County in the past three years (not counting 2023).
Back in 2012, the 6 Black women and girls killed represented the lowest number in the last 10 years. The killings stayed in the single digits in the years since, except for 2016, when the Wilkinsburg mass shooting on March 9 took the lives of four Black adult women, one adult male and an unborn male child. That year, 13 Black women and girls were killed.
Homicides, unfortunately, are not new to Pittsburgh and the county. The 129 homicides that Allegheny County recorded in 2022 was a more-than 25 percent increase than in 2021. Within city limits, Pittsburgh had 15 more homicides in 2022 (71) than in 2021 (56). Homicides are occurring not just at 2 a.m., but in broad, brazen daylight. They’re occurring not just outside the club, but outside of schools. The only constant is that the overwhelming majority of the homicide victims in Allegheny County are Black.
Now data is showing that more and more of those victims are Black women and girls.
CHASSITY CLANCY DIED IN 2020 IN BELTZHOOVER.
EVEN BEFORE THE RISE in homicides against Black women and girls that’s started since the COVID-19 pandemic, Pittsburgh had already scored failing marks for Black women. According to a 2019 Gender Equity Commission report, Pittsburgh was the worst city for Black women to live in, in just about every way. Black women were five times more likely to live in poverty than White men in Pittsburgh, and while White women only made 78 cents to every White men’s dollar, Black women were even worse, making 54 cents to the White men’s dollar. The report found that fetal deaths are twice as likely to occur with Pittsburgh’s Black women than the city’s White women. Even worse, Pittsburgh’s Black fetal mortality is higher than Black fetal mortality in 94 percent of similar cities, the report noted. Pittsburgh’s Black maternal mortality rate is higher than Black maternal mortality rates in 97 percent of similar cities, according to the breathtaking report.
The researchers of the report also found that “Black women have high homicide rates across all the age groups,” and that Black women in Pittsburgh “are more likely to die of homicide than Black women in 93 percent of similar cities.”
Remember, the data the researchers used to make that statement came from the years prior to the pandemic, prior to the 43 Black women and girls who’ve lost their lives to homicide since 2020, a few months prior to the report being released in September 2019.
Pittsburgh is not alone in the spike in homicides against Black women and girls. Nationally, in 2020, there was a 33 percent increase from the previous year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And in 2021, there was another increase, to about 2,075 homicides, roughly 275 more than the 2020 total, according to CDC data.
“We have been looking at the trends and the data because it is alarming and concerning,” voiced Dr. Kathi Elliott, executive director of Gwen’s Girls, an organization in Pittsburgh dedicated to bettering the lives of girls and young women.
The Courier spoke with a number of individuals in the Pittsburgh community pertaining to the topic of increased killings of Black women and girls, and each person agreed that Black women and girls were not killed at this high of a rate back in the ‘90s, when the gangs infiltrated parts of Black Pittsburgh and the Mon Valley and homicides vastly increased.
“I do believe there was a different level of respect given to Black women and girls back then,” said Brenda Tate, the 40-year law enforcement veteran who spent 35 of those years with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, retiring as a detective. “There were more people protecting them in the community. I can remember, and I’m 73 years old, there was never a time in the community that I would be in a certain place, that someone didn’t stop me and say, ‘Does your mother know you’re here.’ My brothers didn’t get that same treatment, but someone always had their eyes on Black women and girls in the community.”
“It’s a trend that has been on the uptick for a while now,” said Diane Powell, director of Community and Family Builders. She was formerly the director of Black Women 4 Positive Change, in Pittsburgh. “It’s no secret that African American women have always been the least protected and the most victimized in our society.”
NANDI FITZGERALD (TOP) AND TATIANA HILL WERE KILLED IN A NEW YEAR’S EVE TRIPLE HOMICIDE IN HOMEWOOD IN 2021.
WHAT IS THE REASONING behind so many Black women’s and girls’ lives being taken of late? Data from the CDC points to intimate partner violence as a major reason, in general terms, as to why women are killed. But the same data shows that Black women are more prone, 45 to 33 percent, to have the death caused by a person “unknown” to the woman. That data suggests that Black women are more prone to either being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or were linked to a person who had issues with another person. That person then took out their issues via gunfire aimed at the man, or man and woman. More White women are prone to being killed by a domestic partner they know.
When it comes to drug use, dying from an overdose doesn’t always get classified as a homicide. However, an addiction to drugs could lead to being put in a negative situation that could end in violence.
The Courier spoke with Erica L. Givner, LCSW, owner of Vision Towards Peace counseling services, in Wilkinsburg. A number of her clients have dealt with the loss of a Black daughter, granddaughter, aunt, niece or female friend. Givner’s oldest daughter had to deal with the loss of her sister on her father’s side, Shavaughn Wallace, in 2009.
Wallace was 18 years old and pregnant when she was killed. She was sitting in the passenger seat of a car on the North Side, talking with friends, when a person started firing at the crowd. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, her grandmother, Shirley Gaines, felt that she had fallen in with the wrong crowd prior to her death.
Givner, as a licensed therapist, said she doesn’t like to use the word “choice” when it comes to decisions of younger adult Black women.
“At 25 is when we get our adult brain,” she told the Courier, “and so you still have to remember, these women that are dying under 25 don’t have their adult brain. Yes, they have some idea of choice but then again, the adolescent brain is extremely reckless. When the adolescent brain is reckless, I don’t think they understand the caliber of their decisions and the impact of the decisions that they’re making.”
Givner said the main difference between the “adult” brain and the “adolescent” brain is, “you don’t have the ‘feeling.’ You only have thought and behavior. In the adult brain, we have thought, feeling and then behavior, and the ‘feeling’ is what allows us to respond. With pain comes change, and the adolescent brain is not developed like that.”
Givner encourages Black women and girls to seek therapy, to “go deeper to understand the relationship and the bond that they’re looking for regarding (among other things) their parents and how their rearing has impacted them today. People have to be brave enough to unpack how these traumas and/or experiences has impacted them.”
Tate told the Courier that she has seen more instances of young Black girls reported on the news as missing these days. “We never saw this many young girls missing,” she said of her days with the force. She said that suggests that some young Black girls may be “getting involved with at-risk behavior, and getting involved with people that can be harmful to them.”
“I would never blame parents, but parenting and having that support is definitely something we need to invest more in,” Dr. Elliott said.
“One of the things we try to do is to help our girls understand the risks that they put themselves in when they start to get involved in relationships,” Dr. Elliott added. “Oftentimes they’re in relationships and before they know it, they’re caught up in some of the negative things that are happening in our community.”
OVER THE PAST THREE YEARS, the Black Pittsburgh community has endured the double homicide of 21-year-old Temani Lewis and her daughter, 4-year-old Kaari Thompson, in the Lincoln-Lemington neighborhood (December 2022); the shooting death of Jasmine Guest, 24, killed while riding on the highway in May 2021; the shooting death of Betty Averytt, 59, as she simply sat at a bus stop on the North Side in October 2022; and so many other deaths of Black women and girls.
The year 2023 got off to the same trend. On Jan. 5, 47-year-old Tarae Washington, of Arlington, was stabbed to death, police believe, by her estranged husband, William Fitzgerald, who is also Black. Fitzgerald has since been arrested. The following day, Jan. 6, two people were found shot to death in Pitcairn; one of them was a Black woman, 20-year-old Jade Baker-Wright. No one has been arrested in connection with that shooting.
Tate, the longtime police detective, said that “to literally kill Black women at the rate they’re doing it now, that’s unheard of for me.”
She added: “We have a problem where we’re not being responsive to young women, whether it’s a serial killer or a lone wolf, boyfriend, spouse, there’s no conversation. We’re caught up now in a survival mode with young Black men and violence, but nobody is paying attention in trying to educate or talk to young girls so that they don’t end up in situations that’s going to put them at risk. Who has their eyes on the community anymore? Who is helping Black girls understand that there is danger out there? Who’s doing that?”