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For Pittsburgh, A Difficult Year Reveals Long-Buried Problems

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

2018 has been rough for people in Pittsburgh. Over the summer, an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by police. Then nearly a hundred local priests were named in a statewide report on child sex abuse. And in the fall, a gunman attacked a synagogue, killing 11 people. Here's WESA's Larkin Page-Jacobs.

LARKIN PAGE-JACOBS, BYLINE: For Pittsburgh native Cheryl Moore, the bad year actually began with baseball. In January, the Pirates traded away star outfielder Andrew McCutchen, known for his thousand-watt smile and deep love of Pittsburgh.

CHERYL MOORE: The crazy thing is he loved us as much as we loved him. So that was a painful start to the year, you know, obviously a less intense thing than many things that happened as time went on.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: If we don't get it...

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Shut it down.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: If we don't get it...

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Shut it down.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: If we...

PAGE-JACOBS: In June, an officer shot 17-year-old Antwon Rose in the back as he ran away. His death ignited protests in and around the city for weeks. Christian Carter was among those who organized and marched. The 19-year-old had just graduated from high school. And Rose's killing felt personal.

CHRISTIAN CARTER: Antwon looked just like me. And he looked like my brother. And he looked just like my cousin. So it was so close to home that it was so important for us to show up and say that this can't happen again.

PAGE-JACOBS: For Carter, the shooting exposed racial fault lines that he's always known existed in Pittsburgh. Another longstanding trauma was made public this summer when the state's attorney general revealed the findings of a grand jury report that documented the sexual abuse of children by clergy and other church officials. Nearly a third of the accused priests were part of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. And in October, a man who espoused hatred for Jews entered the Tree of Life synagogue and shot and killed 11 congregants.

DAN GILMAN: These are not new problems.

PAGE-JACOBS: Dan Gilman is chief of staff to the mayor of Pittsburgh and a former city councilor who represented the neighborhood where the synagogue is located. 2018 was the year that institutional racism, child sexual abuse and anti-Semitism burst to the surface in Pittsburgh.

GILMAN: These are multigenerational, systemic issues in our society. But for too long, we pushed them into the basement, covered them up and pretended they weren't there.

PAGE-JACOBS: And now Pittsburgh sees itself differently, says Leanna Fuller, associate professor of pastoral care at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

LEANNA FULLER: We all sort of have this unspoken belief that our communities are immune from these sorts of things happening. And that's just not true. Pittsburgh has just bumped up against that reality.

PAGE-JACOBS: Reconciling that reality has been hard, but it hasn't been all pain all the time. Christian Carter says the death of Antwon Rose set him on a new course.

CARTER: Activism is my life. It is my tool for survival. And I know that I'm fighting for a world that my great-great-grandchildren can hopefully live in. So Antwon taught me that I have to use my voice.

PAGE-JACOBS: Gilman says listening to protesters and those who've been marginalized is how the city begins to fix itself.

GILMAN: This is a Pittsburgh for all. And if it's not for all, it's not for us. And I feel like Pittsburgh is a community that is resilient and committed to doing that. And you've seen it this year. So I don't know that good came out of tragedy, but I certainly have found ways to find hope in tragedy.

PAGE-JACOBS: At the Theological Seminary, Fuller sees an opportunity to build relationships with people who are different from them to prevent destructive ideologies from taking hold.

FULLER: It's a lot harder to perpetrate an act of violence on a group if you actually know people in that group.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Vocalizing).

PAGE-JACOBS: The night after the Tree of Life shooting in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, the streets filled with people singing, holding candles and grieving. One high school sophomore spoke to the crowd and said what many knew to be true, that Pittsburgh would never be the same. For NPR News, I'm Larkin Page-Jacobs in Pittsburgh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.