To Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey

Dear Mayor Gainey,

In your inaugural address, you promised “a city where economic opportunity is abundant for everyone, a city where affordability isn’t a luxury, and a city that is prepared to lead into the future, . . . [to] establish[] policies that create and sustain investments in literacy, career and workforce development, civic infrastructure and housing options,”[1] “‘that Pittsburgh [will] also [be] a leader in community and police relations, economic inclusion, affordability,’ and ‘transportation access.’”[2]

I am confident it is not in response, that Pittsburgh has instead seen a startling number of shootings and homicides.[3] As I drive the streets of Pittsburgh, however, it is apparent that there has not nearly been enough response to the desperation and despair that people live with in their daily lives.

It is one thing to speak more substantively when speaking at all.

“The reality is, we talk about what I’m talking about all the time,” [Ed] Gainey said Thursday [January 21, 2021].

But “there’s been nothing that demonstrates we’ve made any progress. Period,” Gainey said.[4]

But you, of all people, know that people need to feel the progress, progress I’m not seeing, progress Pittsburgh residents aren’t seeing.

When kids don’t feel society cares about them; when society bullies people even over basic survival needs like housing, health care, and food; when poor people exist solely to serve rich people’s ends; when, as Robert Merton explained it, there is a discrepancy between socially approved ends and the socially approved means available to achieve those ends,[5] you have to expect that kids won’t care about society. You will see what sociologists call “deviant” behavior and everyone else calls “crime” (while, all too conveniently, forgetting about the crimes of the rich[6]) accordingly.

Sure, the guns are bad. The people, not just men, who confuse their guns for their penises and the legislators and judges who enable them[7] are bad. The gangs are bad. The gang rivalries are bad.

Sure, the drugs are bad. But what’s worse is why people feel driven to abuse drugs. Sure, the violence is bad. But what’s worse is what leads people to violence.

You’ve got to look to why people are choosing these means of expression. And it’s all really pretty simple: People don’t feel safe in our society. People don’t feel they even have a chance in our society. People don’t feel cared about in our society.

That’s just way too hard a concept for a whole lot of people. But people need to hear you say it’s not so hard a concept for you.


David Benfell, Ph.D.
contact information

  1. [1]Julia Felton, “Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey promises to unite city in inaugural address,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 3, 2022,
  2. [2]Jordana Rosenfeld, “Ed Gainey sworn in as Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor; addresses questions on policing,” Pittsburgh City Paper, January 3, 2022,
  3. [3]Justin Vellucci, “Pittsburgh’s soaring homicide rate leaves officials baffled,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 27, 2022,
  4. [4]Tom Davidson, “Peduto challenger Ed Gainey: Fewer words, more action needed from next mayor of Pittsburgh,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 22, 2021,
  5. [5]Robert K. Merton, “Social Structure and Anomie,” in Social Theory, ed. Charles Lemert, 6th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2017), 181-190.
  6. [6]Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  7. [7]Associated Press, “Gov. Tom Wolf Vetoes Bills On Firearms During Emergencies And Gas Drilling Regulation,” KDKA-TV, November 26, 2020,; Bob Bauder, “Pittsburgh mayor Peduto, state lawmakers call for vote on Pa. gun bills,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 9, 2019,; Bob Bauder, “Judge strikes down Pittsburgh’s controversial gun bills,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 29, 2019,; Stephen Caruso, “Pro 2nd Amendment lawmakers want to let you carry a gun during an emergency,” Pennsylvania Capital-Star, July 7, 2020,; Jon Delano, “Lawrence Co. Lawmaker Wants To Abolish Concealed Carry Gun Permits,” KDKA-TV, May 7, 2019,; Julia Felton, “Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court rules against Pittsburgh gun regulations,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 27, 2022,; Gillian McGoldrick, “After North Side shooting, Pittsburgh’s lawmakers want action on gun control measures, Airbnb regulations,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 19, 2022,; Joe Napsha, “Wolf draws fire, praise for veto of bill to allow concealed weapons without a permit,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, December 2, 2021,; Paula Reed Ward, “Court says Zappala erred in ignoring criminal complaints on gun legislation,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 7, 2022,