Councilman Kenyatta Johnson

City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson leads a protest chant, “Don’t shoot, I want to live,” as residents fed up with gun violence march through South Philadelphia. — WHYY Photo/Kimberly Paynter

The killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police has caused many people to ask what is being done to bring about change.

Some question the pace of police reform. Others question if the focus should be more on violence in the community. They ask: “Why aren’t there protests about these killings?”

The answer is that a lot is being done on both police reform and violent crime.

But this is not an either-or proposition. Both police brutality and violent crime must be addressed.

The call for increasing police reform and reducing violent crime are part of the same struggle for safer communities.

Black and brown citizens complain both about over aggressive police behavior in encounters with residents and the inability of law enforcement to effectively protect public safety. Research suggests that a loss of trust in law enforcement can cause citizens to be reluctant to contact the police.

The high-profile police killings of unarmed citizens and the senseless gun violence that has taken the lives of men, women and children can cause some to believe change is not happening. Yet significant police reforms have already occurred and community organizations are organizing to reduce violent crime.

Police reform is working.

Police reforms have already been enacted in several big cities. Officers are also being trained to de-escalate situations and reduce the amount of force they use.

Police departments have adopted new policies and the numbers of shootings and deaths have fallen significantly.

In Los Angles, fatal police shootings have declined in each of the last four years, down to 12 last year. Police shootings are also down in Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, Phoenix and San Francisco. Mapping Police Violence reports that the number of Black people killed by police officers has declined by about 10 percent from 2013 to 2019. The number of unarmed people of all races killed by police has also declined.

The nationwide protest also appears to be having an effect. Polls show that most Americans believe that police have a racism problem, and most favor reforms, such as body cameras and outside investigations of misconduct.

Many groups are fighting against violence in the community.

It is untrue to say that the only protest is against police brutality and not violent crime.

On June 3, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse joined community members in a “march against injustice and gun violence” in Harrisburg.

On July 7, Philadelphia Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, local organizations and members of 17th Police District Chaplains rallied with residents in South Philadelphia’s Wharton Square Park in a march decrying gun violence in the city.

Just two years ago, nearly a million young people rallied in Washington, D.C., against gun violence in response to the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.

The Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network, the 17th Police District Advisory Council (PDAC), New Options More Opportunities (NOMO) and the City of Dreams Coalition joined marchers at 24th and Oakford streets where another person was fatally shot during the Fourth of July weekend.

There are several groups working to stop gun violence for anyone looking to get involved. Some of the local groups working to reduce violent crime include: the Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice, Mothers-in-Charge, the Sultan Jihad Ahmad Community Foundation, the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia, Cradle2Grave, the Philadelphia Collaborative Violence Prevention Center and Lots Inc.

CeaseFirePA is a group whose mission is to work in communities across Pennsylvania to build support from the ground up for reforms to reduce gun violence, stop the flow of illegal guns into our communities and keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them.

More detailed information about these groups can be found on their websites.

There are also groups working directly with young people to steer them in the right direction, including Teenshop, an enrichment program for girls, and 100 Black Men of Philadelphia, whose motto is powerful: “What They See Is What They’ll Be.”

This is no time for cynicism. We must replace apathy with action. Pick an organization and volunteer to fight against police brutality, crime in the community or be a mentor. If you are not a joiner, then give a donation to the cause you support. Get involved. Be a part of the change that you seek.

Irv Randolph is the managing editor of The Philadelphia Tribune. You can follow him on Twitter @IrvRandolph.

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