Downtown Pittsburgh rally calls attention to violent deaths of blacks
Breonna Thorne had no qualms Saturday about hopping into a coffin to protest gun violence that's killed hundreds of black Pittsburghers over the years.
Thorne, 19, said plenty of former classmates at the North Side's Perry High School never made age 20.
“I know at least six,” said Thorne of Spring Hill.
About 60 people joined Thorne and Lee Trent, 27, of South Park, who occupied a second coffin, in a march from the City-County Building, Downtown, to Point State Park.
The Rev. Maurice Trent, Lee's father and pastor at Lighthouse Cathedral Church in St. Clair, said he organized the march along with Pittsburgh's Coalition Against Violence to send a message that murder is not acceptable.
“Whenever there's violence, we have to raise our voices,” he said. “We are here to say this is not normal.”
Seventy-one people were killed in Pittsburgh last year — a 54 percent increase over 2013 — and 79 percent of the victims were black, according to Pittsburgh police statistics.
Maurice Trent said his first funeral was for a 14-year-old boy who was fatally shot in 2000.
“I'll never forget it,” he said. “That's when I knew what our calling was.”
Protesters marched with a police escort down Grant Street to Sixth Street and Liberty Avenue to the park, pushing the coffins and carrying signs while loudly denouncing gun violence.
“We've lost too many good people in this city, and it's time to stop this,” said Jarrod Chark, 35, of Beechview.
Passersby waved to marchers and stopped to photograph and record the procession with cellphones.
At the park, leaders urged the crowd to call police if they witness crime. Nearly all the participants raised their hands when asked if they knew someone who was murdered or harmed by gun violence.
Tim Stevens, 70, a longtime civil rights activist and chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project, said murder of teenagers, while common now, was unheard of during his childhood.
“Unfortunately, we are now within three degrees of death in the urban setting,” Stevens said. “Either we have lost someone to violence personally, or we know someone who lost someone to violence, or we know someone who knows someone who lost someone to violence.
“This will not stop until we stop it.”
Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.