Sunday, May 8, 2011

Gunned down on a Pittsburgh street (Sept. 3, 2007)

The following two stories are true and documented in the press, but it is not the full story.

The press would have you believe, and many do believe, that Pittsburgh city streets are unsafe, that you take your life in your hands just walking down the street. Piffle. Our city streets are probably among the safest in the nation. Well, almost piffle. These stories really did happen.

Story 1: David Mamaux walked out of his apartment on a bright and sunny Friday morning back in June 2006, headed Downtown on his day off. He waited for the bus as he often did, in front of the bank, directly across the street from the high school. It was lunch time, and so there was a good bit of traffic.

Suddenly, there was a commotion down the street, over 100 yards away. Someone ran out of the District Justice's office, bolting up the middle of the street, dashing towards a waiting car. In hot pursuit were two constables, Pennsylvania's auxiliary law enforcement personnel. The constables fired at the escapee, in so doing, sending a hail of bullets right into the crowd at the bus stop.

Dave was hit in the back of the head, and fell face first onto the sidewalk, unconscious. He spent two nights in the Trauma ICU, a few more days in a regular bed, but walked out, blinded in one eye, but alive and reasonably well. He even returned to work a few weeks later.

I know Dave well; in fact, I helped him pick out that apartment and helped him move in. He'd lived there for over five years without serious incident before that. This happened June 23, 2006. There has been no serious incident since that, either.

Story 2: On January 3, 2003, Michael Lahoff parked his car in a Downtown parking garage and leaned on the back of his car for a moment to check the diagram on the copier he had to fix. Two youths jumped him, shot him, and robbed him of $15 so they could go buy drugs. Lahoff was paralyzed. The two teens were caught, tried and convicted, and are now serving very long sentences. While I don't know Michael Lahoff, the story is still close to home for me, since I know one of his relatives.

The point I wish to make is that, with a couple of very well covered exceptions, few people come to grief on city streets from gunfire. Sure there are shootings, but most of them are on private property where the assailants and victims are well known to one another. Occasionally someone gets caught in the line of fire, but these are fairly rare events. At least as often, someone gets killed out of mistaken identity.

Each day, 140,000 people go to work in Downtown Pittsburgh, 80,000 or so in Oakland. Virtually never -- maybe one time every three or four years -- do bullets fly in the built-up areas of the city. By the same token, incidents like that occur at each of the shopping malls, at least as often. Ross Park Mall and Monroeville Mall have each had similar incidents, so don't point fingers at Downtown.

What I would like to see is someone do some research on violent crime and serious auto accidents. First, eliminate private-party conflicts such as drug deals and domestic disputes, where random passers-by are not involved. Then affix a Latitude/Longitude to each incident, and break it down statistically by Zipcode or township or voting district. I want to see, on a locality-by-locality basis, whether it is more or less dangerous to be in any one part of the city or suburbs or out in the sticks, and whether you are more likely to be cut down by a bullet, or injured in or by a car.

My hunch is that if danger is what you're worried about, that cars are far more likely to cause or be a part of the cause, than any gun would be, and that the suburbs are every bit as dangerous, in terms of guns or cars, as any part of the city, including and especially, the run-down areas.

The bottom line is, even with these stories affecting people close to me, I refuse to believe that the streets of Pittsburgh are unsafe, and nothing short of the research proposed above will convince me otherwise.

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