Gang Violence in Three Rust Belt Cities: A Study of Policing, the Legal System, and Community Response

On November 29, 2013, I had the chance to accompany Pittsburgh filmographer Ruff Bone to his neighborhood of Beltzhoover. Ruff Bone grew up as a member of the 402 Beltzhoover Crip set. As we drove and walked through the semi-vacant streets of Beltzhoover, Ruff Bone offered an oral history of his neighborhood, chronicling the violence and drug use that contributed to its devastation. When we reached Delmont Avenue, Ruff Bone gestured toward a stretch of homes:

I’m gonna show you three houses, back-to-back. This is Delmont Avenue. This is another crew from my neighborhood called Five-O-Deuce [502]. The dude that lived in this house, Brandon, he got killed by the police… Then you go to 524 and 520 [Delmont Avenue], one young dude from my hood, Lil Ducc, he ended up getting life in jail and he ended up passing away in jail. And the young boy that lived in 520, Lil Peeper, he got killed. They found him down at the bottom of McKinley. So its three houses in a row, three dudes that are dead: one got life, one got killed by the police, and one got killed [from street violence].

Ruff Bone’s story of three ruined lives reflects the wider experience of many inner-city neighborhoods in the United States. During the 2013-2014 year, I had the chance to study gang violence in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit – referred to herein as the Rust Belt. In focusing on street gangs, I sought to understand the relationship among urban communities, police, and the legal system. I interviewed gang members, police officers, community activists, federal prosecutors, and politicians. In total, I conducted 28 interviews of 35 people.