Last year, Chicago had 412 homicides, more than one per day. There were more than 330 killings in both New York City and Detroit. Across the Keystone State in Philadelphia, the homicide total for 2013 was 246.
Considering those numbers, Pittsburgh, with 44 homicides so far this year, seems to be a comparatively safe place. But that number, by itself, doesn’t tell the whole story. For all of last year, Pittsburgh had 46 homicides, a number that seems certain to be far surpassed in 2014. If the recent rate of killings continues unabated – more than a dozen homicides since July 1 – the record of 83 murders in 1993 might fall by the wayside.
Naturally, city leaders, community activists and police are concerned and are looking for ways to stem the deadly tide.
Most of the murders are occurring in neighborhoods that have long been marked by drug problems and violence, but there have been more than a few violent episodes and killings in the past year or so in places like the South Side, home to many restaurants and clubs that attract people from around the city and the region.
Two of the more high-profile incidents involved Pittsburgh Steelers players.
All of this serves to shatter an illusion held by some that Pittsburgh is a safe place to live, work and play.
Pittsburgh’s new public safety director, Stephen Bucar, believes drugs and competition for turf are behind many of the killings in the high-crime neighborhoods.
“A lot of the violence is being perpetrated by those who are competing with each other,” Bucar said in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report.
To confront the growing problem, the city is sending 13 new graduates from the police academy into the East End neighborhoods where a significant share of the killings have occurred.
“The idea is for them to get to know the community, and the community to get to know the police,” acting police Chief Regina McDonald told reporters.
That’s all well and good, but as Mayor Bill Peduto noted in a television news interview this week, the city could place a police officer on every street corner, and that, alone, would not prevent homicides.
What would help the police greatly is cooperation.
Very often, targets of shootings who survive the attacks, even though they know very well who pulled the trigger, tell police they didn’t recognize their assailant.
In some cases, they likely fear another attempt on their life if they “rat out” the gunman or gunmen, and in others they apparently prefer to take matters into their own hands. As a result, what we get is an eye for an eye for an eye for an eye …
Innocent bystanders who witness shootings also are reluctant to openly tell what they know, although city officials and police have tried to make it clear that even anonymous tips can be helpful.
One can understand their fear of being identified as a witness in a homicide case. Those people have been known to end up in the morgue.
And let’s address a very large elephant in the room.
What we’re talking about in Pittsburgh is largely black-on-black crime, and it’s the black community that has to take the leading role in solving this problem.
Hardly a week passes that we don’t see caring members of that community rallying support to stop the violence and take back the streets for good and decent people.
But until human life is accorded a greater value than drug turf and profits, all the extra policing and good intentions in the neighborhoods probably won’t amount to a hill of beans.