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McKeesport resident seeks more community involvement by council

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By Jennifer R. Vertullo
Thursday, June 5, 2014, 4:21 a.m.

McKeesport resident Stephanie Murray approached council on Wednesday night with a plea for more involvement and more diligence in seeking funds to curb violence in the city.

Acknowledging that violence is affecting citizens across the nation — predominantly black men ranging from teenage years to young adulthood — Murray appealed to council for help in resolving unsolved murders and preventing future crimes.

“We desperately need justice for the families whose loved ones were murdered because of senseless crimes,” Murray said. “Regardless of the situation, the victims' families and friends are crying out for closure, justice and peace within themselves.”

Representing the group initially organized as We Need Justice Too McKeesport, which is reinventing itself as Take Action Mon Valley, Murray asked council for help.

“We have heard the excuses why things are the way they are, but we are in a state of emergency and the excuses have got to … be replaced with solutions,” she said, citing options from additional police to walk the beat, bulletproof cameras in undisclosed locations, additional playgrounds and a more transparent council.

Mayor Michael Cherepko agreed with most of Murray's remarks, but took issue with her suggestion that council be more active and transparent. He took issue with the word “transparent,” noting that it's not usually suggested unless a speaker implies that business is being hidden.

“In my opinion, this is the best council we've had,” Cherepko said. “Their hearts are in the right place. There's not a person up here who is not concerned, and they are very involved with what goes on in this community.”

While each council person volunteers during city activities and programs, Murray's remarks led some to believe she thinks it's not enough.

Councilman Jim Barry, for example, has been involved with the LaRosa Boys & Girls Club throughout his life as a childhood member, volunteer board member and director.

“I'm with the youth of this community 8-10 hours every day,” Barry said after the meeting. “I love what we do, and I think we make a difference. We try to reach kids at an early age. I don't know what else to do.”

Councilwoman V. Fawn Walker-Montgomery, who has been a liaison between the Take Action Mon Valley group, the city and regional police, said she understands her colleagues are involved. She asked that they make themselves available for meetings and programs that specifically involve the issue of violent crime.

“They do need to see more than me and the mayor at these meetings,” Walker-Montgomery said. “Just seeing your faces would help.”

Murray asked that council make Take Action Mon Valley a priority so McKeesport can be on the map for solving the issue of violent crime, rather than perpetuating it.

Walker asked fellow councilors and the administration to put pressure on state and federal government to dedicate dollars to ending violence. Knowing that funds are allocated for everything from national defense to education, she wants more to focus on what's plaguing cities across the United States.

“We have a war right here in America, and black men are dying,” Walker-Montgomery said. “We lose them to jail and to (violence). Literally, a generation is dying.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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