"Stop the Violence" Rally: Pittsfield residents rally to protest violence

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Photo Gallery | 'Stop the Violence' rally in Pittsfield

PITTSFIELD — A Friday evening "Stop the Violence" rally did just that — bringing more than 100 people to a corner of the city's West Side neighborhood — in response to a shooting that took place there last Saturday night.

Men, women and children, from dignitaries to residents to members of out-of-state media outlets crowded the corner of Linden Street and Robbins Avenue. From the lawn of the Christian Center across the road to Tucker Park, they stood for about an hour to hear speakers offer words of healing and hope, as well as criticism and calls to action.

Some wore suits, some wore colorful summer garb, and many wore neon lime green T-shirts with a red stop sign on the front and the phrase "Stop the Violence."

The latter item of apparel was leftover from previous "Walk to Save Our Youth," events co-sponsored by the local anti-violence initiative, the Carlton Foundation. The shirts were first made for a solidarity walk after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. The shirts were worn again for a walk that coincided with the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and then again for an October 2014 "Stop the Violence" walk held in response to an August 2014 daytime shooting in Pittsfield that involved two teenage males.

On Friday, the shirts came out again after five people between the ages of 20 and 26, were shot during an incident for which authorities have yet to publicly disclose a motive, identify any perpetrators, make any arrests or press charges. One man, 25-year-old Ronald Pinel, was fatally wounded by a gunshot to the chest. He and the others were found in a vacant Linden Street lot, just a block from where the rally was held.

Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless, whose office is leading the investigation, stood on the side of Linden Street during the entire rally. "I came out to an event that brought together the community because I wanted to show my support," he said.

Capeless did not speak at the rally, and declined to talk about any details of the investigation. But he did say that there is a lack of people and possible witnesses coming forward to talk about the incident.

"We know people know something ... We need people to come to us and tell us what they know," he said.

There is an element of fear and frustration in the community, as well as a grass-roots movement to take various actions.

"The shooting around here has gotten crazy," said Trevon "Tre" Taylor, a rising sophomore at Pittsfield High School.

He came to Friday's rally with his classmates, Christopher Frazier, Carlos Pascual-Polanco, Elvert Mackey Jr., and Miguel Estrella. They live in the neighborhood together, and several have become involved the past year with Pittsfield Community Connection, a newly organized youth outreach and mentoring program.

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At the rally, they clapped together when they heard something they could relate to and bowed their heads together during moments of silence and prayer.

"When something like this happens it makes you look at life a whole lot differently," Taylor said.

The students said they've all benefited from activities like weight-lifting, martial arts and cooking classes offered through Pittsfield Community Connection (PCC).

"You need more things to keep kids off the street," said Mackey.

Frazier agreed. "I was getting into a lot of trouble and was on probation when I met Mike Williams," he said.

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Williams is a PCC outreach worker who met Frazier while speaking at the Salvation Army's Bridging the Gap program for court-involved and at-risk youth. Frazier has stuck with the PCC program and said Williams recently helped him find a job.

"Things like this, it can help us a lot," Frazier said.

During the rally, the adult speakers talked about the need to prevent youths and adults from getting involved with drugs, guns, gangs, and the need to celebrate achievements like graduating and going to college, to prevent problems escalating to extreme levels such as a shooting.

The problem is that a city's problems with drugs, guns, gangs and poverty are cyclical and systematic.

Various speakers offered their ideas for solutions. Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi encouraged people to get involved with parishes and community organizations that support people in need.

Berkshire NAACP Chapter President Dennis Powell said the organization recently voted to create a leadership coalition to address "systemic issues." He said the new group will be chaired by member Roberta McCulloch-Dews.

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Next Friday at 6 p.m., McCulloch-Dews' husband, Warren Dews Jr., invited community members to the Price Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church to strategies ways to address these issues. In addition to being the vice president of audience development and marketing for The Eagle, Warren Dews Jr. is a minister at the church. Bullets from the Fourth of July shooting struck the exterior wall and also a church pew.

During the rally Warren Dews prayed for "this town to come together, Lord, and that this is not for show."

Manny Slaughter, his wife Vanessa Guess-Slaughter, and their daughter Nyanna Slaughter, a college student, also spoke. The couple have long organized youth programs for the West Side, from sports and dance to literacy. Their daughter is a product of those programs and also serves as a youth leader.

Manny Slaughter called for city officials to "install lights in that dark parking lot" near where the shooting took place. He also proposed city taxpayers to donate a dollar a week to create a "Good Neighbor Fund," to support drug, crime and violence prevention programs.

He also called for landlords to report "gang-bangers" living in their apartments and said that if police know of "troubled areas," they should have a command center located within a three-block radius.

"We need to stop closing our eyes and turning our other cheek," said Slaughter. "We all share an equal responsibility. Nothing changes if nothing changes."

Youth Alive Drum Corps conductor and Pittsfield High School basketball coach Jerome Edgerton and Pittsfield Community Connection outreach worker Mike Summers also spoke, as did Jermaine Sistrunk.

Sistrunk is a local youth athletics coach and father of the 20-year-old woman who was injured in the shooting.

"Mistakes happen," he said, calling himself "living proof of it."

"I was part of the problem once, not the solution," he said. "That's part of my history. I'm not proud of it but it made me who I am today. That's why I'm here."

Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.


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