By Margaret L. Smykla Contributing Writer
Mayor says change will take time and will take the whole community
Mayor Ed Gainey, along with Zone 3 Commander John Fisher, Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt and other officials, addressed a crowd of 200 at the South Side Market House and a like number on a Zoom call concerning safety concerns along E. Carson Street.
Additional police officers, and city tools like occupancy checks and building code enforcement and the disruptive properties program, will be utilized to combat violence on weekends in a six-block stretch in the South Side Flats.
So said Mayor Ed Gainey before a packed house at the South Side Market House on June 14 to discuss public safety on East Carson St.
"We can't have the disruptive balance that has erupted on the South Side," he said, noting the culture there has been growing for 20 years.
The town hall meeting was called to address the six-block area of 13th to 18th streets which, on weekend evenings, has been marked by shootings, unruly crowds in streets, open consumption of drugs and alcohol, fights, loitering, public intoxication, underage teens, excessive littering, and more.
The presence of 26 establishments with liquor licenses in the area increases the volatility, officials have stated.
To "restore order" is the goal, said city Councilman Bruce Kraus, who represents the area, to kick off the meeting.
Solutions proposed at the meeting by residents and business owners include additional police, a curfew for minors, more lighting, ride sharing, stop-and-frisk, making the South Side a gun-free zone, enforcement of laws on the books, putting safety ahead of politics, and to stop handcuffing the police, the latter denied by the mayor.
"We can fix this or chase it to another neighborhood," said Mr. Kraus.
"This is our golden opportunity right here, once and for all, to fix this for all time.
"We are two decades into this, and yet we still struggle with a way to try to fix this."
Then, quoting the infamous line from the 1975 film classic Network, Mr. Kraus said, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."
The surge in violence has led the Fudge Farm to close its doors permanently at 1503 East Carson St.
The decision followed an exchange of gunfire outside the store, leading the owner to say it was not safe for teens to work there.
Last weekend, the mayor walked the area twice, including after midnight to see firsthand what goes on, especially as the bars close and patrons descend on an already crowded street.
At prior community gatherings Mr. Kraus has stated there is an estimated 1200 to 1500 people on the street, many with handguns, and 2000 in the bars. When the latter are forced onto the street at closing at 2 a.m., the total rises to 4,000.
He has also stated "everything is on the table" as officials are willing to do whatever is needed to avoid a potentially explosive outcome.
In his remarks, Zone 3 Commander John Fisher said there are 16 communities in the zone, resulting in the zone having the highest call volume.
"So that stretches us," he said.
Besides wanting to assign 15 officers to the area, who would continue patrolling the parking lots and alleys, he would like to see signs posted stating "You're being videotaped" and that open containers make one subject to arrest.
Bringing back last summer's one-way traffic flow on East Carson St. is also a possibility.
Commander Fisher also wants city agencies to conduct business inspections, occupancy limit checks, and code enforcement.
Next, Sarah Kinter, Director of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections (PLI), said the agency will enforce licenses and building maintenance; cite electrical, building, and zoning violations; identify fire hazards through routine inspections; conduct safety inspections; and more.
She also said PLI will work with the Dept. of Mobility and Infrastructure, or DOMI, in these efforts.
In the comment period, a resident said elected officials need to stop playing politics with public safety.
"We are one family whether we are in church, a bar, or restaurant, or a neighbor living on the street.
"We have in Pittsburgh the very best police, the very best firemen," he said.
A woman who has spent 17 years in the service industry on the South Side said a triple shooting by a 17-year-old last year started an eight-week nightmare.
"It actually destroyed our summer.
"Business is down just like last year, and it feels like our third pandemic," she said, calling for more police officers and a curfew.
A 15th St. resident said revelers scale a six-foot gate into his yard.
Another resident asked if bartenders can be held personally accountable when they serve patrons past a certain limit. He concluded that he does not want to live in South Side any longer.
"It is unsafe, and an unwelcoming environment for people and businesses," said a woman who was born and raised in South Side.
"I'm not asking for anything more than the law to be enforced," she said.
The windows of her shop have been damaged, and her tenants feel threatened as they cannot enter or exit without people hanging out by the doors and along the front of the building.
She called the areas between 14th and 17th streets a major problem.
She said the college students are always manageable, but the young throngs there now are not.
In searching for an evening and overnight caregiver for her 92-year-old mother she was told by an agency that no one would come to the South Side due to safety issues.
She had no choice but to put her mother in a personal care home, she said.
A business owner said "there is a misconception that the bar owners only care about themselves, but, in reality, they want the residents to feel safe."
A woman said that revelers feel free to party on streets with open containers, and when businesses call for help, nothing is done.
A business owner said the front glass of his restaurant was destroyed in a drive-by shooting, with an employee shot in the leg.
A resident said that within four weeks there were three shootings around his house. He can view drug dealing in parking lots and elsewhere.
"It is scary to be down there right now," he said.
Another resident said the biggest problem is under-agers, calling for stop-and-frisk.
"Make their parents come down and pick them up," he said.
The meeting concluded with Mayor Gainey.
"There are some things we all want to beef up.
"I will continue to fight to change the gun culture," he said.
The mayor acknowledged the problems in South Side built over two decades and wouldn't be solved easily or overnight. He said change in the neighborhood would come about through the cooperation of businesses, bars, community and government.
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