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Community leaders encourage Black residents to vote in Tuesday's primary

Community leaders encourage Black residents to vote in Tuesday's primary
Community leaders encourage Black residents to vote in Tuesday's primary 03:17

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - The Pennsylvania primary is four days away and a key demographic candidates are trying to appeal to across the commonwealth is Black voters. KDKA and our sister station CBS3 in Philadelphia worked together to learn about the most important issues that will determine their vote and the efforts that are underway to get them to the polls.

As African Americans in Pittsburgh head to the poll next Tuesday, there is no issue more pressing than gun violence.

"That's A-number one, " said Robert Perry, who is a Vietnam veteran and voter.  "You know, violence is something you'll never stop," he added.

"I don't think they really care about Black people killing each other off," said Lay Engram as she was waiting at a bus stop.  "I really don't think they do."

As of May 13, there have been 44 homicides in Allegheny County in 2022.  One that has received heavy attention recently happened at an Airbnb on the North side on Easter Sunday morning.  Pittsburgh police estimate about 200 people were at a party in the rental property when shots were fired.  Matthew Steffy-Ross and Jaiden Brown, both 17, were killed.  Tuesday's primary election takes place exactly one month after that shooting.  No arrests have been made.

"Yeah, I was there," said Engram, who described the experience as traumatizing. She said, "I don't really like being outside anymore because I feel like I'm not safe, you know."

"A lot of people feel powerless.  A lot of people feel voting doesn't make any difference," said Tim Stevens, chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP).  The organization was formed to get Black Pittsburghers to always head to the polls when there's an election.

"There's no off-year election.  Every election should be an on election," Stevens said.

Voter turnout is typically stronger during general elections, like when voters elected Ed Gainey as Pittsburgh's first Black mayor last November.  At the time, he pointed out that residents want to live in safe surroundings.

"Safety is number one and that's what we're gonna work on," he said on election night.

Six months later, it is a front-burner issue for several Black voters interviewed by KDKA.  But some wonder if elected officials are hearing them.

"If we're going to vote you in, at least do something for us, you know.  At least be accountable," said Wendell Moon Jr., another local voter.

Stevens said voting rights are being challenged in many parts of the country.  He said that makes voting critical right now, especially for African Americans.

"If you don't vote, guess who makes the decision for you?  It won't be you," Stevens said.

"All the elections are important," Pastor Robert Collier of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia said, "but this election is important for all people, especially the left out and the left back."

Leaders of local Black churches in the Philadelphia region are imploring voters, especially those in underserved communities, not to wait until November to head to the ballot box.

The primary elections on Tuesday are just as crucial.

"Don't sit on the sideline, talk about what could have been done, what should have been done," Dr. Wayne Weathers of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia said.

"This is a major election. The concern is that people will be apathetic," Pastor Clarence Wright of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia said.

Wright is the lead pastor at Love Zion Baptist Church in North Philadelphia. With issues like abortion, the economy and health care costs as top concerns for voters, they say casting a ballot is one way to help bring about change.

"There is still a process and that process is to vote," Wright said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, for the 2020 presidential election, Black voters came out in large numbers: 72% of Blacks eligible to vote in Pennsylvania were registered and of them, nearly 71% of them voted.

But with less publicity during midterm years, turnout for primaries is typically far less.

"When you look at the numbers for Philadelphia and for the commonwealth, they are dismal," Urban League of Philadelphia President Andrea Custis said.

In the lead-up to election day, the Urban League of Philadelphia is urging voters to do their homework and know where candidates stand on matters important to them.

"Make sure you understand where those legislators are, where those politicians are, where those candidates are on that issue," Custis said.

Community leaders say what will be key in the primaries and the November mid-term elections will be getting people registered to vote, educating people about the issues and getting people to the polls on election day.

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