Is our community becoming ‘numb’ to the gun violence?


Community members weigh in, as county approaches 100 homicides for the year


Talk to gun violence interrupters in Pittsburgh like Rev. Cornell Jones and Rev. Eileen Smith, and they’ll tell you that they have no plans to stop fighting against the shootings plaguing many Black communities in the region.

But if you talk to them, they’ll also tell you that some people in the Black community see gun violence as “normal,” or that it’s “no big deal.”

And that’s not good.

But overall, Rev. Smith told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview, Nov. 7, “I don’t think the community is becoming numb, I think the community is just as devastated as they’ve ever been, but now it’s becoming old hat,” she said. “It’s like, no big deal anymore, but it’s still taken seriously. I know it is by us and our team that goes out into the street.”


Reverend Smith is the executive director of the South Pittsburgh Coalition for Peace. Reverend Jones is the City of Pittsburgh’s Director of Street Outreach.

They are two of the numerous African Americans in the Pittsburgh area who tackle gun violence head-on, speaking with possible violence perpetrators and showing them alternatives to the street life. For Reverend Jones, who told the Courier it’s his life’s mission to help those who may be overlooked or thrown away by the rest of society, he said oftentimes it’s the media’s portrayal of gun violence that makes people think that it’s an everyday thing or something you have no choice but to live with.

“One of the challenges is, people think that this is just an outreach team and law enforcement issue, when I believe this is a village-at-large issue,” Rev. Jones told the Courier, Nov. 6. “This is something that we have to go from being on the sidelines to being in the game to be able to deal with the issues of the violence that’s going on.”

No one needs a degree in rocket science to know what’s going on. Data from Allegheny County showed there were 92 homicides in the county in the first 10 months of 2023, 71 of which were Black lives. Allegheny County is on pace for another year of at least 100 homicides, but not as high as the 129 homicides recorded in the county for 2022.


And there was a particularly troubling week and a half of gun violence that occurred in the area from Sunday, Oct. 22, through Wednesday, Nov. 1: A 21-year-old woman, Heaven Budd, was killed near the East Busway station in Homewood, in broad daylight, Sunday, Oct. 22. Just 90 minutes later, a 29-year-old man was killed in Manchester—again, broad daylight. The following day, Monday, Oct. 23, a woman was shot in her leg multiple times near Perrysville Avenue and Maple Avenue on the North Side. It occurred around 6:30 p.m. The very next day (Oct. 24), a shooting occurred again on the North Side, where a man was shot near Schimmer Street and Staho Way. The shooting was another broad daylight shooting, at 10 a.m. On Wednesday night, Oct. 25, shots were fired at a fully-occupied vehicle outside the Target store in Ross Township, North Hills. The shots didn’t hit anyone, but police determined that one of the occupants inside the vehicle was an ex-girlfriend of the alleged suspect. The alleged suspect, 21-year-old Kenneth Sharp-Haymon, of Wilkinsburg, was arrested near Downtown the next day. On Thursday morning, Oct. 26, a woman was shot near a gas station on Fifth Avenue in Uptown. She was shot in the chest around 5:45 a.m. Not even 12 hours later, that afternoon, a man was killed inside an apartment in North Versailles. Police detectives have charged a 36-year-old man with homicide in that case. Early Friday morning, Oct. 27, another woman, 27, was shot during a domestic dispute at an apartment in Crafton Heights, West End. The SWAT team was able to apprehend the male suspect. On October 29, two people were shot outside a bar in Carrick. Police believe the two men were shooting at each other. Ninety minutes after the 4:30 a.m. shooting, two adult women showed up at hospitals with graze wounds from the Carrick shooting. Later that day, a woman was shot in Homewood around 5:30 p.m. in the 7200 block of Felicia Way. She was shot in the hand. And on Wednesday morning, Nov. 1, a man was killed in a shooting in Homestead, identified as 38-year-old Eric Stephens, of McKees Rocks. A second person was wounded in the shooting.

Gun violence continued on Saturday morning, Nov. 4, when a domestic incident turned deadly, according to Pittsburgh Police. A man was shot and killed allegedly by a woman in East Hills.

Pittsburgh Public Safety officials confirmed to the Courier that most of the shooting victims over the past two weeks were Black. The Manchester shooting victim from Oct. 22 was White.



Reverend Jones said people sometimes don’t feel like violence is their issue until “it hits somebody that’s close to them. Every single shooting, to me, takes a toll on you. This is another genius, or future president or attorney that could be living their life, and this violence is stopping them from doing that, so I can’t get numb to this type of stuff.”

While more affluent neighborhoods may have kids playing outside with regularity, gun violence in many Black communities forces parents to think twice about letting their kids outside for extended periods. It forces some families to be nervous to come out the house, or return to the home, late at night. It oftentimes keeps big corporations from moving their businesses there, forcing many Black workers to travel far distances to get to their job. For Rev. Smith, she constantly speaks with people who have been affected by gun violence. It’s the grief they have to go through, she said, “and how it has affected their life, their family.”

Reverend Smith added: “We’re there to provide resources for them,” such as counseling and even funeral expenses. “We’re there to support them and help them get through it for as long as it takes.”

Reverend Smith said thanks to increased funding from Allegheny County, her team has more “boots on the ground” to quell violence before it starts. “We sort of know the possible perpetrators, and they know us, and we form a relationship with them to try to give them alternatives to violence, try to teach them the right way.”

She said beginning in January 2024, her organization will host a 12-month program for the highest-risk individuals, which will pay them to attend classes, get cognitive behavioral therapy and to work at a place of employment. The model (Achieving Change Through Transitional Employment Services) comes from a program that has seen success in Chicago.

As for Rev. Jones, he said the best way for people to combat gun violence is to look in the mirror, figure out their passion or skill, and apply it to help others. A woman with a tattoo removal company offered to remove gang-oriented tattoos for people for free. “I said, ‘ma’am, that’s your role and that’s an extremely important role.’”

Reverend Jones said if you’re a retired teacher, tutor that child who may be having problems with schoolwork. Business owners, take a chance and hire somebody who might be a returning citizen.

He said he’s had counselors who have done free therapy for people. Also, “people who were known to rob people for food because they were that poor, I’ve had people who cooked meals for them and brought it to their family while we’re connecting them with social workers…”

“That’s violence prevention,” Rev. Jones said.


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