If not for those lawless “out-of-towners,” Wilkes-Barre and surrounding areas would be peaceful, crime-free places just like in the old days, right?
That’s the common — but misguided — conclusion many area residents voice when discussing this year’s spate of homicides in Wilkes-Barre. Ten people have been shot and killed within the city’s boundaries so far this year. The unnerving situation begs for a coordinated and sustained response from the police and the larger community. But any blueprint for combating violent crime should be based on social science and best law enforcement practices, not rooted in fear of the “outsider,” racism or unrealistic perceptions of the past.
For perspective, turn to just about any edition of the “Record Almanac and Year Book,” a longstanding series printed by the former Wilkes-Barre Record newspaper. We pulled the 1917 edition and read about these deadly incidents; all occurred over a 12-month period in 1915 and 1916:
• “December 12, 1915, Charles Owens of Nanticoke, 25 years, died of bullet wounds. Was found dying along a road in Hanover Township, but failed to state how or by whom he was shot.”
• “December 12, 1915, the headless body of an unidentified man was found in a swamp near Sugar Notch.”
• “January 29, 1916, the coroner’s jury decided that Mrs. August Leahm of Wilkes-Barre, who was suppose to have committed suicide, was shot by some party unknown.”
• “February 8, Paoa Giudice of Pittston was shot to death while leaving his home to go to work, believed to be due to a secret society feud.”
• “May 27, Mrs. George Petran of Wilkes-Barre, 30 years, shot and killed by a border because, it is alleged, she opposed his marriage to a relative.”
• “July 23, Pietro Dizzorr of Swoyersville, shot during a quarrel.”
• “September 13, Alexander Stamkewicz of Brookside died of injuries sustained in a saloon fight.”
• “September 28, Luigi Pilotti of Pringle, 28 years, was killed by a bullet fired through a door, having been mistaken for someone else.”
In total for that year, Luzerne County homicides numbered 21. The figure doesn’t minimize the bloodshed and heartache experienced in a single Wyoming Valley city this year, nor does it suggest area residents should look at the encroachment of violent and often drug-fueled crime into their neighborhoods as acceptable.
It does, however, serve as a reminder of the ceaseless toll inflicted on our communities when some among us allow their actions to be driven by jealousy, rage, greed and the worst of our human tendencies.
In the face of today’s criminal troubles, we should respond with only our best.