PITTSFIELD -- Something has to change.
For many city residents and officials, last Monday's daytime shooting, now considered by investigators as being gang-related, was too much, the people involved too young, and the safety of a neighborhood populated by families and heavy traffic too compromised.
The incident led to the arrest of a 15-year-old suspect and hospitalized a 17-year-old, both males, whose lives have been upturned at such an early age.
But it's not uncommon, said Bianca Carlos-Mendonsa, proprietor of B's Exclusive Gear on North Street. In response to the incident, she organized a last-minute peace rally outside of her shop, calling for people to work together to eradicate gang and youth violence in Pittsfield.
She printed up 40 T-shirts that read "SOS: Save Our Streets" in red letters. The "O" had a gun in the middle with a line drawn across it. Just below that, in black letters read the phrase "#CityStrong." The rally also included music, performers and speakers.
"With all the violence going on lately, I felt we kind of needed something like this now in our community," Carlos-Mendonsa said.
A self-described former at-risk youth, Carlos-Mendonsa, now in her early 20s, said she knows all too well the kind of pressure and influence the city's young people, many of whom are patrons in her store, are up against.
"I grew up in that environment," she said, "and it's hard to steer away from it if it's always there.
The city will host a "Community Conversation" from 6 to 7 tonight in the Morningside Community School cafeteria to discuss the ongoing violence.
It will include a panel of speakers, including Mayor Daniel Bianchi; Police Chief Michael Wynn; the Rev. Warren Dews Jr., a minister of the Price Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church; Karen Tracana of the state Department of Youth Services; Pittsfield Public Schools' Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless; Eddie Taylor, CEO of the S.E.E.D. Network; and William Gale, chief probation officer for Berkshire Juvenile Court.
It will be moderated by Adam Hinds, the city's Shannon Grant coordinator for gang intervention and community safety initiatives. Members of the community will also have the opportunity to voice their concerns and offer ideas.
Hinds said after last week's shooting occurred, he heard a lot of fears, concerns and talk of more retaliation -- something that both his department, police, city officials and other community members have been working to prevent over the past week.
"The issues we're faced with are not going to be resolved with more gun violence," said Hinds, who immediately sent members of his outreach team to Berkshire Medical Center last Monday to talk with family members and friends gathered there to help ease tensions.
"There is a lot of concern in the community about what happens next," he said.
Detective Kim Bertelli, lead investigator of last week's shooting, said that "the majority of teens in the city are doing right and doing positive things."
But for the teens that struggle, she said, the issues run deep and the outcomes are harsh.
While the city's crime rate is down from a few years ago, Bertelli said that in terms of gang-related issues, there has been an increased amount of gunfire between rivals.
"There are a lot of stolen guns out there," Chief Wynn said.
With last week's incident, Bertelli and Wynn both credited the public for its immediate response to the incident and cooperation with investigators.
"Because of the time of day it happened, there were a ton of witnesses," Bertelli said.
The incident took place shortly before 9 a.m. near the intersection of First and Burbank streets, by the O'Connell's Convenience Plus store and Shell gas station.
Wynn said that with the help of witnesses, police were able to apprehend the suspect and the alleged handgun used in the incident in just an hour after the shooting.
"But the police can only do so much after the fact," Mayor Bianchi said, noting that youth and gang violence is nothing new to a city, but the approach and effort to prevent it can be.
Wynn said there was a gang influx to Berkshire County that took place in the 1990s, mostly from Albany and Troy, N.Y., and largely due to an increase in the trafficking and use of crack cocaine. But, the issue wasn't regularly discussed in the Pittsfield Police Department until about 15 years ago, when an internal review and reorganization led to increased intelligence work and the formation of a unit dedicated to learning about and investigating gang-related issues and crimes.
Today, the department continues to partner with state and federal agencies dealing with gangs, but most of the existing gang members in Berkshire County are homegrown.
Hinds said this fact underscores the need to do more gang and youth violence prevention work in Pittsfield and throughout Berkshire County.
"No one organization can tackle [this] alone," he said.
Wynn agreed and said, "This is a community issue, and it's going to require a community solution."
If you go ...
What: Youth and Gang Violence: A Community Conversation
When: 6 tonight
Where: Morningside Community School cafeteria, 100 Burbank St., Pittsfield.
Panelists: Mayor Daniel Bianchi; Police Chief Michael Wynn; The Rev. Warren Dews Jr., a minister of the Price Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church; Karen Tracana of the state Department of Youth Services; Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless; Eddie Taylor, CEO of the S.E.E.D. Network; William Gale, chief probation officer for Berkshire Juvenile Court; and moderator Adam Hinds, the city's Shannon Grant coordinator for gang intervention and community safety initiatives. Members of the community will also have the opportunity to voice their concerns and offer ideas.
To reach Jenn Smith:
or (413) 496-6239.
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink