Earlier this month, Fox News host Tucker Carlson went on a nearly 20-minute-long rant about me. The whole thing was as unhinged as you’d expect, but one line that stood out was about my tattoos. “All your stupid little fake tattoos,” he said, calling them a “costume.”
So let’s talk about the tattoos that Carlson seems to be so interested in.
I have nine dates tattooed on my right forearm. Each one is a day on which someone died violently in Braddock, Pennsylvania, while I was mayor. Gun violence and violent crime might be jokes to someone like Carlson, but they are very real to people in towns like Braddock.
My decision to mark these deaths with tattoos was inspired in part by their permanence — the fact that these people, their stories and my town will be with me forever.
The first one that I tattooed on my arm is “01.16.06.” That’s the date on which Christopher Williams was shot dead while delivering pizzas. This was a man about my age at the time. He had a 12-year-old daughter. I just couldn’t get over the fact that he was never going home to her.
Another tattoo reads “02.03.07,” the date that 23-month-old Nyia Page was found dead after her father sexually assaulted her and left her in the bitter cold. Her tiny footprints in the snow led an officer to her body. And I have “09.16.13,” the date Derrail Roilton, a father of two, was found dead in the yard next to his mother’s home after being shot three times.
These murders and tragic deaths in Braddock, and others in similar towns and cities across Pennsylvania, became so normal that they were a talking point in our elected leaders’ speeches and footnotes in media stories.
That’s why I have these tattoos. They are not some “costume.” They are reminders of the people we have lost and what I am fighting for. Both the dates on my right arm and the “15104” on my left — Braddock’s ZIP code — are personal to me.
My decision to mark these deaths with tattoos was inspired in part by their permanence — the fact that these people, their stories and my town will be with me forever. I get that etching art permanently onto your body isn’t how most politicians would express their connection to their communities. But I didn’t care about what anyone else thought. It felt right to me.
I care deeply about my community and the people I represent. As mayor, I always felt a sense of obligation and responsibility for tragedies that happened under my watch. I put these dates on my arm because I realized that we had lost the shock of these deaths. We became numb. I did it because I never saw the media or the public at large caring about these victims, most of them young Black men.
During my tenure as mayor, Braddock, which saw three homicides in the year before I became mayor, went 5 ½ years without the loss of life through gun violence. We made a difference and we saved lives. It’s my proudest accomplishment in public service.
Gun violence in Braddock is what drove me to run for mayor in the first place. When two of my students at the GED program that I started were gunned down and killed, it was gutting. I knew I had to do something to stop the scourge of gun violence that was destroying families here in Braddock. And I believe our model can be scaled to use at a national level.
I worked closely with the police and found ways to help them get the funding that they needed to do their jobs effectively. I also made sure we were investing in young people and in programs to keep them off the streets.
One example is the Braddock Youth Project, a program I created that works with young people and gets them involved in service projects and encourages them to give back to their community. For example, the teenagers involved with the program turned trash-filled vacant lots into an organic urban farm.
Gun violence and violent crime might be jokes to someone like Carlson, but they are very real to people in towns like Braddock.
I was a hands-on mayor and showed up at almost every crime scene because I felt a sense of duty to our community. I wanted to do everything I could to keep my town safe.
That’s one of the core differences between my opponent for the U.S. Senate, Mehmet Oz, and me. While he was making millions of dollars peddling miracle cures from a TV studio in Manhattan and living in a mansion on a hill in New Jersey, I was rolling up my sleeves and putting in the work to make my community safer. I’m the only candidate in this race who has fought violent crime and won.
The stories of the people whose lives we tragically lost still are with me every single day — not just on my arm but in every decision I make as an elected official. They remind me of why I am here and why I’m doing this.
NBC News THINK has also extended the opportunity to write an op-ed to John Fetterman’s competitor in the Pennsylvania Senate race, Mehmet Oz.