When 22-year-old Zykia Sanders was shot to death in West Philadelphia last year, she became a victim of the undeclared urban war.
It is a war that has no political goals, seeks no strategic advantages of any kind and pushes no social agenda other than to make life miserable for the families of those unfortunate enough to have become a victim of it.
Recently, after a year in which the city saw 331 homicides, Mayor Michael Nutter said his administration would be announcing new crime fighting strategies to be initiated in 2013.
“What we see now at crime scenes is 20 to 30 shell casings, the number of head shots involved in homicides is up in the 10 percent range, the multiple shell casings number is up pretty significantly as well,” said Nutter in a published report. The mayor noted that a significant aspect of the problem is the issue of firepower — guns with a high rate of fire discharging round after round.
“You will hear from us very soon about additional efforts to deal with this issue from my perspective at the city, the state and the federal level in my capacity as head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors,” Nutter said.
Although the specifics of the Nutter administration’s plans haven’t been revealed yet, Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison said the announcement would be coming soon.
“The mayor spoke about the number of shooting incidents in which victims were shot in the head and often shot multiple times,” Gillison said. “Statistically, the number of shootings are down and the number of part one crimes are down — but we did an analysis and saw that more people were being killed as a result of more bullets being fired in these incidents — the number of people shot in the head was up 11 percent. That significantly increases the likelihood that the victim is going to be killed. This shows that firepower needs to be addressed, and we’ve been working on coming up with strategies that can be pursued. Look, Sandy Hook happened — but this administration has been dealing with the problem of gun violence in this city over the last five years we’ve been in office.”
Gillison said that the Philadelphia Police Department would be continuing its efforts of targeting specific neighborhoods throughout the city where incidents of gun violence are highest. Part of that targeting strategy is called GunStat, in which police work with assistant district attorneys to identify the city’s most violent offenders in a specific area, and keep them under close observation.
“If the suspect is arrested, we can request higher bail and stiffer penalties if a firearm is confiscated. We’re going to continue the targeting strategies and other tactics but the mayor has said that he wants more. President Obama has made a commitment to push for stronger gun laws, and I know he would like to announce something in his upcoming State of the Union Address. We’re committed to initiating new strategies in our city.”
In 2012, there were 331 murders in Philadelphia and Zykia Sanders was an innocent bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time on November 17. Her accused killer, Amin Gibbs, 33, of the 6800 block of Dicks Avenue, allegedly shot Sanders outside West Park Apartments on the 4400 block of Holden Street. Investigators knew from the beginning that Sanders was not the intended target. Gibbs, who has a criminal history going back to 1997, has been charged with murder, conspiracy, weapons offenses and related charges. He was arrested less than a week after the killing.
Philadelphia Police Department statistics show that Gibbs is not an anomaly, but part of a consistent dynamic that fuels deadly violence in the city. Sanders was not the intended target when she was killed — and statistically most of the murder victims in Philadelphia are young, Black males who are killed by other young, Black males in the same 18 to 34 age range. Statistics provided by the Philadelphia Police Department show that in 2012 from January to March, 84 percent of all murder offenders had at least one prior arrest before they were arrested for homicide. Twenty-eight of the 42 offenders with prior arrests were arrested for a violent crime before they were arrested for homicide, including juveniles.
“Much of the violence is sparked by arguments over nonsense,” lamented Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. “The slightest thing can end up leading to someone’s death. If two guys get into a fistfight, the loser goes and gets a gun and shoots and kills the winner — so when you win, you lose. That’s the way it is. The most violent district is the 22nd. The 25th would be the second and the 24th is the third. The 12th District is also pretty rough, but the 22nd is where we have most of our problems. Some of these guys are getting out of jail and they return to their neighborhood and try to re-establish themselves. The neighborhood has changed; there are different players and they’re not letting anyone re-establish anything; so you get a shooting.”