Mayor Michael Nutter called on Congress to move forward on legislation that would require universal background checks on all firearm purchases.
Nutter’s announcement was part of the National Day to Demand Action, an event spearheaded by the organization Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Organizing for Action, Americans for Responsible Solutions and several other groups that support background checks.
There were more than 100 similar events across the country.
“The single most effective thing we can do to get guns out of the hands of criminals is to require comprehensive and enforceable background checks,” said Nutter. “That means making sure that people who buy guns in private sales are checked, and the gun store that conducts the check keeps a record of the sale in case the gun is traced from a crime. Background checks are the only systematic way to stop felons, domestic abusers and people with severe mental illnesses from buying firearms. These checks are instantaneous and highly effective.”
Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel said that private gun sales have to held to the same standards that gun stores adhere to.
“Background checks are already required for sales at licensed gun shops. Dealers are already required to keep a record of the sale,” Bethel said. “Why can’t we hold private sellers to the same standards? The guns they sell are no less deadly than the guns sold by licensed dealers.”
The National Day to Demand Action brought together hundreds of mayors, law enforcement officials, faith leaders, gun violence survivors and family members, and other Americans who want Congress to take immediate action to strengthen the background check system and reduce gun violence. The day is expected to be the largest gun violence advocacy event in history.
Reward for Arrest
The Fraternal Order of Police is announcing a $10,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for the hit and run accident involving off-duty Police Officer Michael Brady. Officer Brady was struck in the 2300 Block of East Cumberland Street on Wednesday, March 27, 2013, at approximately 2:07 a.m. Anyone with information should please contact the Accident Investigation Division at (215) 685-3180 or call 911.
Brady, 28, was off-duty and was walking on the 2300 block of East Cumberland St. when he was struck by an unknown vehicle. The vehicle is believed to be a black or dark colored 2010 Ford Taurus.
The vehicle is missing the passenger side windshield wiper arm. The vehicle may have minor damage to the passenger side windshield and possibly a dented hood. The vehicle was last seen travelling east on Cumberland Street towards Aramingo Avenue.
Brady was transported to Hahnemann Hospital in critical but stable condition with a deep laceration to his head.
Last Friday, employees at the Philadelphia Housing Authority joined the growing number of Americans who have felt the unyielding hand of the nation’s economic realities when 82 people lost their jobs as a result of the sequestration cuts.
PHA, which relies heavily on federal dollars form the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was forced to layoff 82 employees.
The agency, which is the city’s largest landlord, faces a $32 million cut in federal funding. Congress passed a spending bill earlier last week that was $10 million less than what was expected. Those cuts came within days of the U.S. Census Bureau report that Philadelphia has the highest rate of deep poverty in the 10 most populous cities.
“Our hands are tied,” said Kelvin Jeremiah, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Housing Authority. “This agency cannot continue serving the city most vulnerable without federal dollars. These cuts were necessary in order to prevent any resident from becoming homeless. PHA will continue to find ways to cut cost without compromising services to residents.”
According to PHA officials, 36 non-representative and 46 represented employees were given a one week severance package. In addition, PHA provided a free confidential employee assistance hotline number to help them through this transition.
“Washington’s unwillingness to compromise has forced these drastic measures in order for the authority to survive,” said Jeremiah. “PHA’s staff and residents are resilient. Therefore, I remain confident that together we will manage this storm. The federal budget should not be balanced at the expense of the poor and most vulnerable.”
In January of 2012 PHA officials announced that the agency would have to slash 100 jobs from its payroll. Last year’s layoff followed a $24.5 million cut from Congressional cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget. The agency took steps to deal with the $24.5 million cut in funding by reducing its deficit to $10.2 million by tightening operational spending.
Ever since Philadelphia Magazine published a lengthy, and some say scathingly, critical piece on the state of race relations in the city. The blow-back has been steady and unwavering.
The piece titled “Being White in Philly” has created national and international headlines, touched off a storm of responses from the African-American community, legislative and business leaders, and has left many people speculating if ultimately the tourism and hospitality industries might experience a drop in numbers.
“That depends on what Philadelphia Magazine does in terms of moving forward and I see them moving forward on this issue,” said Shalimar Blakely, executive director of the African American Chamber of Commerce. Blakely spoke with The Philadelphia Tribune following a closed meeting with representatives from Philadelphia Magazine and she said she was encouraged by their response to the Chamber’s efforts to work with them in building not just a more diverse editorial staff but economic opportunities for minority owned businesses.
“We weren’t just meeting about what was published, although that certainly was one of our concerns,” she said. “But the Chamber is looking for opportunities for Black-owned businesses and employment. We wanted to find our how our members can take advantage of information regarding contracts so it was mainly about diversity in that regard. We do need to put some diversity in their magazine and there was a real willingness on their part to work with us in meeting those goals.”
A. Bruce Crawley, president and principal of Millennium 3 Management said city officials should be concerned over a potential negative impact based from the article.
“Issues like this can have a negative impact on tourism in any major city,” he said.
Crawley is a member of the executive committee of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau and has been a long-time fixture in the city’s business community. “We know racial issues like this can hurt tourism as in the situation a few years ago in Miami, Florida and this is something we should be tracking.”
In 1980 race riots left 18 people dead, injured 400 others and left behind $100 million in property damage in the predominantly black Liberty City district.
Five times in ten years Miami has been subjected to violence sparked by unresolved racial issues. Philadelphia has been spared such violence but, as the “Being White in Philly” piece points out, there is a great deal of racial polarization, both perceived and literal. The publishers of Philadelphia Magazine printed its March edition with two covers; one for its subscribers and the other for visitors who might pick up the publication.
“Moreover, compounding the sin of having allowed this article to be published in the magazine — and a cover story no less — the magazine cynically and hypocritically distributed its Marc issue with two different covers: reportedly one, for its subscribers, with the provocative cover story; the other with an attractive woman of color on its cover, for Philadelphia hotel guests and visitors,” wrote Mayor Michael Nutter in a blistering letter sent to Rue Landau, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission on March 13.
Nutter said rather than rage against the “ignorance reflected in the uninformed, ill-advised, ill-considered lament” that a more comprehensive evaluation of racial issues in the city should be examined.
City Councilman Curtis Jones said he doesn’t believe the article will affect tourism and hospitality at all.
“No, I really don’t. I respect the opinions and thoughts of those who do but I don’t see this affecting our tourism industry,” he said. “The Philly magazine piece demonstrates an attempt for some people to take back their 1960 point of view if you know what I mean. In City Council we represent diverse, ethnically and multi-racial districts. There are divisions but nowhere nearly as pronounced as reflected in that article. What I hear from people who visit our city is conversation about our historical sites, our parks and restaurants and our sports teams. Are there still racial issues to be dealt with? Yes, no question about it but Barack Obama got elected to a second term and I think Mayor Nutter is more respected in white communities by comparison because of where he stands on the issues. We’re not a monolithic Black and White city any more. It’s less about race and more about class.”
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown echoed Jones’ remarks.
“I’ve given this a lot of thought and I think we really must respect First Amendment rights,” she said. “People can say and think whatever they want and thank God we live in a nation where that’s the law. We mustn’t condemn someone for that. Just because someone has an opinion doesn’t make that reality and fortunately that article doesn’t reflect the reality of this city. When people come to our city they come for the rich history and our world class art museums. They come for the entertainment. The officials at our Convention Center have worked hard to raise our city’s profile and tourism is growing in this town. We have 11 more visitors coming into Philadelphia every year. So while readership at Philadelphia Magazine had decline by 10 percent, tourism in Philadelphia is growing.”
Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senator Bob Casey, a longtime supporter of Second Amendment rights who was highly rated by the National Rifle Association, said last week that he now favors two gun control bills expected to be introduced soon.
Casey, who opposed the ten-year assault weapons ban that was allowed to expire in 2004, said on Wednesday that he was haunted by the murders committed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut. He said he would support a ban on assault weapons and another bill banning high capacity magazines.
“If those two bills come before the Senate, I’ll vote for both,” Casey said. “I just believe that in light of what's happened, in light of measures we can take to lessen the chances that will happen [again], that these are two steps we can take.
“I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, and believe in the right of citizens to own guns for their own protection as well as for hunting, recreation, and collection. Nonetheless, after reflecting on the power of the weapon and the number of bullets that hit each child in Sandy Hook, the reinstatement of a ban on military-style weapons and high capacity magazines are two common-sense steps that I support. Moving forward, my hope is that Republicans and Democrats will come together and act in response to this great tragedy. I remain optimistic that the sense of urgency we all felt after Sandy Hook will not be diminished by time or any partisan battles.”
Other pro-gun lawmakers who have shifted their position are Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). All have recently stated they would support new gun control measures.
Reid stated that his proposal includes language in support of universal background checks – a proposal that has had stiff opposition in the pro-gun camp. Reid said he would stand behind President Barack Obama’s provisions that were called for in his State of the Union Address.
“I will start the process of bringing a bill to reduce gun violence to the Senate floor. This bill will include the provisions on background checks, school safety and gun trafficking reported by the Judiciary Committee,” Reid said in a press release issued on March 21. “I hope negotiations will continue over the upcoming break to reach a bipartisan compromise on background checks, and I am hopeful that they will succeed. If a compromise is reached, I am open to including it in the base bill. But I want to be clear: in order to be effective, any bill that passes the Senate must include background checks. The bill I advance will serve as the basis for opening debate. Once debate begins, I will ensure that a ban on assault weapons, limits to high-capacity magazines, and mental health provisions receive votes, along with other amendments. In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for all of these provisions to receive votes, and I will ensure that they do.”
Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013, a bill that would increase the penalties for straw purchasing from five years to up to 25 years in prison. The measure also makes straw purchasing a federal offense. The Gun Trafficking Prevention Act was introduced by Republican Congressman Patrick Meehan on February 5. Supporters of the measure say it addresses the concerns of law enforcement officers, who said the bill would significantly help reduce gun violence and the concerns of law abiding gun owners who don’t want any infringement on their Second Amendment rights.
“As a former federal prosecutor, I’ve seen firsthand the challenges faced by law enforcement personnel fighting to keep guns out of the hands of criminals,” Meehan said during a press conference. “This legislation will give law enforcement critical tools they need to combat gun violence while protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms.”
Law enforcement authorities say that straw purchasing is a major component driving the excessive gun violence in America’s major cities. In Philadelphia, where over 300 murders were committed last year, close to 90 percent of the homicides were committed by illegally obtained handguns. It is expected that such a law would have a huge impact in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago and Camden, where gun violence has become rampant.
In the State of the City report just released by the Pew Charitable Trust statistics show that in 2012 82 percent of all the homicides committed in Philadelphia were by firearms and four out of five of the victims were African Americans. Law enforcement authorities often state that illegal guns are a major part of the problem.
“Anything that helps reduce straw purchasing will have an impact on gun violence,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “There were 334 homicides committed in this city last year and not one was committed by a legal gun owner. We have to do all we can to stop straw purchasing. Universal background checks will help us along with mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms. Universal background checking would be a valuable tool to help us keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people with a history of domestic violence and mental health problems.”
A couple that was arrested following a two state car chase were in court for a preliminary hearing on Monday.
Blake Bills, 24, and Shayna Sykes, 23, were charged with a host of offenses. Bills is charged with DUI, theft, receiving stolen property, recklessly endangering another person, conspiracy to steal an automobile and fleeing police. Sykes has been charged with DUI, aggravated assault, fleeing police, theft, receiving stolen property, unauthorized use of an automobile, and possession of an instrument of a crime.
According to investigators, on March 5 at 9:49 a.m., Camden Police stopped a vehicle at Haddon and Federal Streets. The officer was conducting a vehicle investigation when the suspects, who were unrelated to the initial car stop, jumped into the officer’s vehicle striking him as they fled. He was transported to Cooper Hospital and admitted in serious condition.
Camden Police observed the stolen police car going over the Ben Franklin Bridge into Philadelphia. A pursuit of the patrol vehicle proceeded into Philadelphia north on Fifth Street. With the assistance of Philadelphia police the stolen patrol car was stopped at Seventh and Norris Streets. As Bills was apprehended, police observed Sykes get into a Philadelphia police car and drive south on Seventh Street from Norris. The vehicle continued to elude police striking three unattended cars at 600 West Lehigh Avenue. The stolen vehicle continued to flee despite having heavy front end damage and finally came to a rest on the 1100 block of Hope Street where Sykes was arrested without incident.
Suspect Arrested in Murdered Vet Case
On Sunday homicide detectives arrested a woman wanted for stabbing a West Philadelphia man to death on Friday, March 22.
Carolyn Harris, 37, from the 5300 block of Poplar Street. Harris was arrested on Sunday, March 24, 2013 and charged with the murder of 59-year old Peter Miles. Miles was a U.S. Army veteran. On Friday, March 22, 2013, police responded to a report of a deadly stabbing inside a residence on the 5300 block Poplar Street. Upon arrival officers were directed to the second floor bedroom where they found Miles dead from multiple stab wounds to the chest. Investigators said he had been dead for several days. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Harris is charged with murder and related offenses. The motive in the killing has not yet been released.