Community says jobs needed to curb Homewood crime | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Community says jobs needed to curb Homewood crime

The scene outside of the Carrone Baptist Church in Homewood was one of peace and unity. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl stood in front of a throng of Homewood residents and activists -- shepherded there by members of his staff. Beside him, on a white poster board, was his comprehensive plan to help curb the violence in the crime-besieged neighborhood.

It seemed the whole community was behind him -- at least it seemed to be until those not standing behind the mayor got a chance to ask some questions.

"Mr. Mayor," quizzed one man in attendance. "Police are important, but the main problem for our families is the inability of the black man to get work.

"They're doing $3 billion worth of work in this city and my father is not working. Will you make a commitment that the unions will hire 1,000 black men this year?"

In responding to the request for 1,000 union jobs Ravenstahl said he couldn't make that commitment but did say: "I can make a commitment right now to anyone who's interested in employment that the unions, particularly the labor unions, have reached out to me to try to hire African-American individuals."

Ravenstahl's comments were interrupted by an audience member who shouted, "It's not true." "Excuse me," snapped the mayor. "I'm speaking."

Neighborhood residents and activists have said for some time that the lack of good job opportunities in the community is one of the main facilitators of crime. However, there was not one commitment to a job program outlined on the mayor's poster board.

The mayor's plan includes putting about 30 beat cops city-wide in high-crime and business districts, a citizens observer program, an anonymous 311 tip line, an adopt-a-block program, forming an anti-crime cabinet and possibly further down the road, installing surveillance cameras across the city.

While a lot of residents tried to be optimistic, more were afraid this gathering of officials and the media following a high-profile shooting would be like gatherings of the past -- soundbites, pictures and a hasty return to business as usual. A big part of that concern came because some said the mayor's plan didn't address one of the core issues in the fight -- more jobs.

"You heard the people bring up the need for jobs in our community and the mayor seemed to stray away from that topic," said Jemar Hammond, a minister with 70 Messengers, a community outreach ministry. "He actually seemed to get a little aggressive when those questions came at him, but he has to answer them. There are a lot of African Americans without work and the fact of the matter is that leads to frustration; frustration leads to aggression; and aggression leads to crime.

"There are jobs available and those jobs need to be put out there for everyone to have a shot at them -- not just African Americans, but all people. If a neighborhood is seeing a lot of crime, you can almost always trace it right back to unemployment."

According to the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research, the unemployment rate in the city is 11.4 percent for black men and 14.1 percent for black women. That compares to single-digit unemployment rates for white men and women, 5.6 and 4.5 percent respectively.

However, there were some, like Jerome Jackson of the Manchester-Bidwell Corporation, who thought the mayor's plan had the potential to make a difference. "I think it is different from other initiatives that we've seen in the past and we need to give the mayor's plan a chance to work. And if we do that and once we start to see some results, you'll see a lot more of the community buy into it."

Unfortunately, last week's press conference was an all-too-familiar scene to residents.

"I worry that this will be just like all of the meetings we've had in the past," said Homewood resident Nathaniel Darwin. "I'd like to see what will happen over the long range, but here at the start, it looks like every other meeting we've had."

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