Rev. Robert Collier

The Rev. Robert Collier is senior pastor at Galilee Baptist Church and president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity.

— Tribune Photo/Abdul R. Sulayman

A Black pastor of a Roxborough church politicized his invocation before City Council’s legislative session Thursday to demand more funding for anti-violence efforts in the upcoming budget as homicides reach historic highs.

The Rev. Robert Collier, senior pastor at Galilee Baptist Church, called on members of City Council to earmark a minimum of $150 million in the city budget for proposed violence prevention initiatives — well beyond the nearly $35 million that Mayor Jim Kenney proposed in his $5.2 billion spending plan.

“Let no member of City Council rest until he or she does his or her part to vote for a budget that helps curb the rising tide of violence,” Collier said. “Gun violence is the second pandemic that we face. Lord, we know that it is not going to vanish on its own.”

Collier added that legislators should nix proposed wage and business tax cuts. Instead, they should maintain those taxes and funnel the revenue to help those who are suffering “because for so long they have been neglected, bypassed and discounted.”

The lobbying effort was highly unusual. Invocations before legislative sessions are typically routine affairs where religious leaders avoid prodding members of City Council on political matters.

Collier’s comments appeared to catch Council President Darrell Clarke by surprise.

At the conclusion of Collier’s invocation, Clarke called it “interesting” and thanked Collier for his additional “commentary.”

Philadelphia is in the midst of a spike in gun violence.

Homicides have reached 236, up 33% compared with this time last year, according to the police department’s online database. Gun violence here has mirrored upticks in U.S. cities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, killings surged to a three-decade high. The victims of homicides and shootings are overwhelmingly African-American Philadelphians.

Collier was pushing legislators to back the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity’s $100 million plan to fund grassroots organizations that provide community-based violence programs. Collier is president of the Black Clergy.

Collier also asked City Council to support a $50 million proposal for support services and initiatives for young people in the 10 ZIP codes most impacted by gun violence, as well as the 25 schools most impacted by gun violence. Councilmember Helen Gym put forward the proposal earlier this month.

Members of City Council and the Kenney administration are still hashing out a spending plan for fiscal year 2022, which begins July 1.

Legislators must introduce the proposal by June 17 in order to pass a spending plan on second reading on June 24, their final session before they go on summer break. A budget must be passed by the end of the month.

Kenney has proposed restarting annual cuts to wage and business tax rates, which were halted during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

Legislators also have proposed to slash parking taxes and further reductions to business taxes.

Kenney’s proposed budget includes $18.7 million in new funding for anti-violence initiatives.

Legislators have been pressing for more funding to combat the gun violence epidemic.

In a letter to Kenney last week, 13 legislators urged the mayor to dedicate $100 million in the budget for anti-violence initiatives, which includes Gym’s $50 million proposal to help at-risk youth.

The 13 members to sign onto the letter represented a veto-proof majority for City Council to include the funding over Kenney’s objections. Yet it remains unclear if Council members will exercise that power.

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