With gun violence outpacing last year’s numbers, local and state officials are offering solutions and calling for help.
With the city’s homicides recently reaching 182 — up 6% from the same period last year — the number is on pace to break 2018’s level, which was a 10-year high. More disturbing is that Black men make up 77% of the homicide victims, according to the Philadelphia Police Department.
“Children can’t even come together in a public space without the threat of this type of violence,” said Jamie Gauthier of West Philadelphia.
“I think its imperative for us as a city to, one, figure out the short-term solutions of stemming gun violence and getting guns off the street and, secondly, to help redirect young people and try to connect them to opportunities and ways that would help them choose different paths,” added Gauthier, who won the Democratic primary for the 3rd District Council seat.
“To me, this is, at its core, is about poverty,” she said. “I was reading an article this morning which cited that 76% of the gun violence is happening in neighborhoods where at least 20% of the residents live in poverty.”
“Helping to improve public education, helping to connect young people to jobs, having work programs for the youth in our neighborhood, I think this will help keep people away from this kind of activity,” she added. “In the short term, I think we need to go into neighborhoods, talk to young people, help to interrupt the type of violence and whatever we can to get guns off the street.
“When we get serious about addressing poverty, that’s when I think we will see a different outcome,” Gauthier said.
Ronald G. Waters, who leads the city’s 3rd Ward, provided his insight during a recent interview.
“I think that what is happening in our community is an outburst of individuals that have experienced trauma and are suffering and who have been robbed of their birth-rights as human beings and they don’t get it that they are more valuable than the emotional moment that they are going through,” he said.
Waters said shooters might receive an instant emotional boost once they commit their crimes, but are unaware of the long-lasting ramifications.
“What we have to show them, in some kind of way, is what real unity looks like,” he said. “We have to show them an example, that’s why we have these collaboratives now, that was an outcome of the Holley Street Neighbors who decided to come together to stop the senseless violence on their block.”
The Community Leaders Collaborative is a coalition of more than 25 local businesses, organizations and concerned residents, who Waters says have decided to come together to “stop the senseless violence on their block.”
“We know that these kinds of unified efforts are what is needed,” Waters said. “Even when the police department is not around, there is a strong community that is going to be there that’s going to maintain the quality of life and we’ll just call the police when we need them but for the most part, the responsibility is on us to do something about us and we have accepted that responsibility.”
The issue isn’t one of just policy but personal to state Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell.
“I am also very upset because, as you know, I have lost family members to homicide including my son who was killed in a case of mistaken identity and I’ve worked diligently for the past eight years since my son was murdered to try to stop this problem in Philadelphia, and I think we have a solution,” she said.
Johnson-Harrell is looking to unveil what she calls a gun violence prevention strategy, which she notes has reduced violent crime by 30% in implemented areas since a pilot program in 2013. It uses people tied to the community to work.
After the pilot concluded, Johnson-Harrell said the program was reviewed, analyzed and modified to achieve better results. She hopes to acquire the funds for to expand the initiative.
“We began to build a comprehensive model and I have begun, as early as last week, to pull all of the city’s partners together to sit down and try to get them to jump on board to support the strategy,” she said. “We have a proven methodology and I think the city needs to get behind it to stop the gun violence.”