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1,000 Eyes - A Public Safety Proposal

Posted by Elwin Green on January 15, 2017 at 10:15 PM

In the first week of 2017, one man was killed and two injured in two shootings in Homewood.


Gregory McLeod, 28, was killed around 5 a.m. the morning of Tuesday, January 3. Three days later, on Friday, Jan. 6, this time around 9:30 a.m., two men were injured. Both were hospitalized; one reportedly in critical condition.


Both shootings were reported to emergency responders as occurring in the 7700 block of Frankstown Avenue, which runs between Brushton Avenue and Hale Street.


There are only seven structures on that block, four of them vacant, as are three of the four corners at the intersection of Frankstown and Brushton. But one of the structures in the 7700 block of Frankstown is Earl's, a popular bar; the building on Brushton Avenue nearest the intersection is home to a convenience store that stays busy; but the vacant lots themselves are often attractive to those looking to commit crimes.


It is possible that at 5 a.m. Tuesday, no one saw anything, but it is almost certain that at 9:30 p.m. Friday, someone did. But if the prevailing pattern continues, the people who saw something will say nothing to police.


I propose that we break that pattern.


Breaking it requires understanding its dynamics. When people who are not involved in wrongdoing see it and say nothing, it is typically because they fear retribution.


One way to combat that fear is by allowing people to share information anonymously. We can use both the silent complaint form and 311 to do that. There is a measure of safety in anonymity.


I propose a campaign that would increase that measure of safety by adding the safety of numbers.


How?


By having so many people ready to provide information that when someone does, no one can tell who did.


Here's how I see it working (I invite you to suggest improvements):


The campaign begins with a gathering in a large space, with every news outlet in town on the scene.


Everyone who enters receives a silent complaint form. During the meeting, someone teaches us all how to use them, and how to use 311 to make anonymous tips.


And before we leave, the entire room stands and recites a pledge that includes: "When I see something, I will say something. What I know, law enforcement will know."


The pledge would also include language about holding law enforcement accountable, by also saying something when we see police misconduct.


The primary message will be that we, as residents, are stepping outside our fear into a realm of exercising greater responsibility -- or to put it another way, that we are claiming our power, and refuse to feel powerless again.


The secondary message for wrongdoers will be: There are more of us than there are of you. Many more.


That is why the campaign must involve a large number of people. A group of 15 or 20, no matter how passionate, can't deliver that message.


To really put wrongdoers on notice, I'd say we would need at least 500 participants taking the pledge at the kickoff event. The reason for inviting every media outlet to cover the event is to make it known that a lot of us are taking the pledge.


(At the same time, we would require the media's cooperation in protecting participants by not showing the faces or giving the names of specific individuals, other than speakers.)


Then what? How can we keep those 500 people engaged, encouraged, and confident that what we are all doing together will work?


The main way to stimulate engagement would be by flooding the neighborhood with silent complaint forms, so that when you pay for your haircut at the barber shop, you get a silent complaint form; when you buy something at a convenience store, you get a silent complaint form; when you apply for social services, you get a silent complaint form; when you go to church, you get a silent complaint form. And when you attend any kind of meeting in Homewood, you get a silent complaint form.


Notice that I'm saying, "you get." In all of these contexts, you don't pick up a form; someone hands it to you. This would require the participation of merchants, heads of nonprofit organizations and church pastors, for starters.


That may not be possible; but let's pretend that it is, and continue.


What else could help to keep the campaign going? Two things, for sure -- a name, and regular reporting.


If the target number for pledges is 500 people, we could call the campaign, "A Thousand Eyes."


Reporting could come in the form of a monthly report on the number and types of silent complaints submitted, to communicate the fact that the residents of Homewood are exercising a new level of power by telling what they know. This report would come to us as residents, but would also go out to media.


How long would "A Thousand Eyes" last? Until the data from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police convince us that we've turned the corner on making Homewood safe.


However long that takes, I think it would be a good idea to celebrate a benchmark in crime reduction, giving residents an opportunity to say, "We did it!" -- as long as everyone understands that to mean, "Now that we have made Homewood safe, we can focus on keeping it safe."


Finally, if we move forward with "A Thousand Eyes", we must make it clear that it is about US. Everyone behind the campaign must understand, and communicate, that not only can residents do this, but that we are the ONLY ones who can. Other people can help, but only we can do.


That's it, folks; that's my proposal. If it sounds familiar, that's because I suggested it before. I still think it deserves discussion, but you tell me - does it deserve to move forward? Can you offer improvements? Visit Homewood Nation's Facebook page, and let us know what you think! 

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A print version of this piece appears in the Jan. 12 - 18 issue of Print, Pittsburgh's East End newspaper. Pick up your copy at Baker's Dairy, 7300 Hamilton Ave., then SUBSCRIBE for more of Homewood Nation and other East End news!

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The Homewood Chronicles

Oct. 2005 - March 2010

Reports from a community in transition

In October 2005, after a bullet came through his living room window, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Elwin Green began writing "My Homewood," the first blog on the P-G's website. For 4 1/2 years, "My Homewood" shared stories of tragedy and beauty, of perplexity and hope - stories that live again in "The Homewood Chronicles."

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