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Pittsburgh’s black paper tallies ‘attacks on us by us’

April 23, 2007 by  
Filed under News

( Pittsburgh’s black newspaper, which reaches households in neighborhoods where gun violence happens often, is keeping a running tally of people killed in the city and county — to send a harsh message.

The message is as layered as the problem is complex, says New Pittsburgh Courier publisher Rod Doss. But the dominant point is clear in the project’s title: “Under Attack by Us.”

The weekly newspaper’s last count, published April 4, listed 30 homicide victims through March 31 — 24 of them black people, and 22 of those, men. Most were killed by black men.

“It’s looking internally at what’s going on in our communities, and trying to get a handle on the fact that we no longer can point fingers elsewhere and put blame elsewhere. These are attacks on us by us,” Doss said.

“We need to be just as outraged over these statistics as we would if it were a white policeman who shot a black man Downtown.”

A brazen Downtown shooting during morning rush hour Thursday magnifies the problem by reinforcing old stereotypes that black people should be feared, he said. The victim, shot seven times, is black; he survived. Police said the shooter was a black man with dreadlocks.

“It’s intimidating to many people to go Downtown and see black people,” Doss said. “The harsh reality is, people are afraid of black people because of their appearance, the gangster attire, the language they use, the vulgarisms. All it takes is one or two to brushstroke everybody else. One bad encounter sets a tone.”

“Quite honestly, it’s a bold step on the Courier’s part. It’s like the media being criticized for counting the deaths in the war, but that brings it home. It hurts, it hurts deeply, but it brings it home when you see it every day,” said Esther Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.

“It is an issue, and it’s time that we focus on the black male as a society and understand the things that society has put in place systemically that have impacted the black male,” she said.

The newspaper, which has a circulation of about 10,000 and a digital edition on its Web site, wants readers to realize the homicide victims are people, not just statistics kept by the Medical Examiner’s Office.

But why they are dying is a more important message, Doss said. The solution, he believes, is to change the culture. Businesses — and jobs that come with them — won’t locate in predominantly black neighborhoods if drug deals and gun violence are prevalent, he said.

“The culture has to change. The attitude about the community has to change. There’s got to be greater pride in a community. We’ve got to look at how to rebuild a community, and not destroy a community.

“I have no patience for lack of will to change and improve circumstances.”

Young people especially are at risk because many are growing up in families without positive male role models, and in a permissive society where people have become devalued, Doss said.

Oddly, some young people he talks to are “very protective of what they see going on with their generation,” he said.

“I’m not sure what that is, but it’s almost like that built-in tolerance for what goes on. Somewhere along the way, the lines were blurred about what was right and what was wrong, and we haven’t gotten past that.”

By Sandra Tolliver

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