On the first day of December, 4-year-old Kaari Thompson and her mother, Temani Lewis, 21, were gunned down in front of the Brooklyn Food Mart on Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar.
Kaari died shortly after arriving at Children’s Hospital, but her mother held on for another five days before succumbing to her wounds. Police believe two men who fled the scene were involved in the shooting or know something about it. Officials are asking the public to help identify them.
Mayor Ed Gainey cut short a trip out of town to return to Pittsburgh on Dec. 2. He said he did not want such a heart-wrenching moment to slip into a swirl of “normalized” violence.
Sitting in his office, the mayor addressed the camera even while struggling with a sense of outrage so deep it leaped out at the viewer. A year into his first term, Gainey takes each shooting personally, especially when 2022 has delivered a staggering toll of 14 victims of gunfire who were 18 years old and younger.
“There’s no reason that a 4-year-old child should’ve been murdered because of gun violence in our city, none,” he said. “There’s no reason why we should devalue life at this level. That’s a 4-year-old murdered in our city. That should never happen.”
The mayor assured viewers that the police had made Kaari’s murder a priority and that they were “working diligently around the clock to make sure they apprehended” those responsible. Gainey said he was praying for Kaari’s family with a piety that felt authentic, not performative the way politicians often do when addressing the unspeakable.
He also discussed the killing of 50-year-old Christopher Gaylor, an unhoused man found Downtown on Coffey Way next to the Duquesne Club at the end of November.
The police obtained footage of four men, possibly teenagers, assaulting and shooting Gaylor with BB guns at close range. Metal shrapnel was found in his head. Four suspects have been identified, but as of deadline no one has been arrested for Gaylor’s killing.
The grainy video that emerged could’ve been a scene straight out of “A Clockwork Orange” in the way it pointed to the casual, homicidal whims of a quartet of young men with no sense of connection to society. You could hear the anguish in Gainey’s voice as he addressed that murder as well.
The number of murders in Pittsburgh in 2022 now hovers in the high 60s, with every expectation of reaching 70 or even 75 before the end of the year.
The mayor was quick to thank Pittsburgh, especially those in communities inhabited by the shooters, for tips that have led to the capture and prosecution of killers all year. He commended the Pittsburgh Police for closing more homicide cases based on tips. Many of Pittsburgh’s urban neighborhoods have come a long way from the days when so-called “snitching” on gangbangers and shooters was considered socially taboo.
There are now many ways to send a tip to police anonymously, so fear of discovery is no longer an incentive to keep one’s mouth shut. There is a strong desire in the Black community to help Gainey, the city’s first Black mayor, succeed in his attempt to make Pittsburgh “the safest city in America.”
In his address, Gainey took the time to excoriate those who resorted to guns to settle disputes. He was especially critical of the guns that have flooded the streets of Pittsburgh since the pandemic and decried how easy it is for young people to get access to them.
He spoke about how older generations have let down young people by not sufficiently teaching them respect for human life and tolerance for others. The same sentiments spoken by a Black mayor a decade ago might’ve generated pushback by offended parents. Now, it is an observation so self-evidently true as to be beyond dispute. There are men and women roaming the streets with access to guns who don’t have the empathy to question their homicidal instincts.
The Sunday after Kaari Thompson’s murder, Gainey joined friends, relatives and neighbors of the young girl on a corner near where she was murdered to release dozens of pink and purple balloons in her honor.
One year into his historic mayorship, Ed Gainey had to know it wouldn’t be the last vigil he would attend. Mourning young constituents appears to be part of the job, but he refuses to let it become a “normalized” part of the job.
As long as he’s mayor, he’s going to take Dylan Thomas’s advice and “rage against the dying of the light.”
Dear readers: I hope you’re enjoying the change of pace in my weekly column in NEXTpittsburgh as much as I am. I’m also working on a new podcast with my friend and fellow journalist Natalie Bencivenga. In Other News will launch in early 2023. Stay tuned!
Tony Norman’s column is underwritten by The Pittsburgh Foundation as part of its efforts to support writers and commentators who cover communities of color that historically have been misrepresented or ignored by mainstream journalism.