RANKIN (KDKA) — Rankin Police Chief Ryan Wootan is on patrol in the Hawkins Village housing community where his underpaid, skeletal police force makes nightly sweeps for guns and drugs.
“We’re catching babies,” he said. “We’re catching these kids between 11 and 16 with guns every day. We just got an AK-47 out of here Friday. We did a detail with the sheriff’s department.”
In May, Hawkins Village was the site of a deadly shooting but the other towns in the Mon Valley and throughout Allegheny County have fared even worse.
With 72 homicides already this year, the county murder rate has almost surpassed last year’s total of 74. And for the first time, most of those have occurred outside the City of Pittsburgh.
While the city accounts for 28 of those homicides, suburban Allegheny County has been the site of 44 murders, including nine in Wilkinsburg, seven in McKeesport, five in McKees Rocks and three in Duquesne — killings attributed to drug and turf wars and the availability of illegal handguns.
“Anywhere you go right now you can get a pistol,” Anthony Barron said. “You can send a crackhead to a pawn shop and get a gun.”
In the economically hard-pressed Mon valley, Barron says there’s little opportunity for the young except to work for the local drug dealer.
“My mom messed up. My dad ain’t around and the only father figure I got in my life is the dude off the corner,” he said. “Now, y’all might not call that love, but being from the hood you know that’s some of the most love you gonna get as a young black male in this environment. Some of the most love you gonna get is from that dude on the corner with a gun on his waist and the pocket full of whatever drugs he’s selling.”
Said Wootan: “I don’t have the answer, but I know that shooting one another, staying out here doing illegal things all day and all night and not trying to get a job and not trying to make a difference is not the answer.”
But the murder rate in the valley is only going up while the victims are getting younger and younger. Sad to report that while the situation is desperate, the answers are few.