Democratic mayoral candidate Anthony Hardy Williams paid close attention last September when Mayor Jim Kenney called on city officials to deliver a plan to stem the escalating homicide rate.
And he watched the mayor announce the plan in mid-January aimed at reducing 2018’s 351 homicides, which marked an 11-year high in an effort to reduce the homicides.
However, two months later and with the murder rate slightly ahead of last year’s pace (73 compared to 70) the state senator from the 8th District gave Kenney a failing grade.
“We’re appreciative of that fact that the administration decided to have a plan starting back in January. Unfortunately, since that plan was implemented, 72 souls have lost their lives. So whatever that plan is we frankly think there needs to be much more to that,” Williams said Tuesday morning during a press conference at John Bartram High School in Southwest Philadelphia, where he and 20 anti-violence activists announced a “Citywide Peace Pledge.”
“Today is just a symbolic gesture to sign a piece of paper, but the bottom line is we have 72 souls lost since January. That means that whatever we’re doing is not working,” Williams said. “Whatever we’re doing, we need to reset it and go back to the streets and work with those who are creating the destruction.”
As part of the mayor’s 2020 budget, Kenney’s has proposed spending $5.5 million to combat gun violence in the city, the hiring of 50 new police officers and creating a director of faith-based initiatives to lead a commission addressing gun violence.
“The mayor knows one life lost to gun violence is one too many,” Kenney campaign spokesman Harrison Morgan said in an email that also pointed to the state legislature’s unwillingness to pass “meaningful” gun laws. “The mayor’s budget proposes tens of millions in new funding to invest in neighborhood-based initiatives that address the root causes of violence.
Activist Tracey L. Fisher, who spent 22 years behind bars on gun and drug charges, stood alongside Williams. He heads up Gateway to Re-Entry, which focuses on helping former inmates transition back into society, among other things.
“Mayor Kenney can’t give me an urban agenda,” Fisher said. “That’s not the case with Senator Williams. But Mayor Kenney, in the three years he’s been mayor, has a failing grade. Senator Williams knows what the urban community needs. Starting today, Kenney’s got to go.”
Fisher and other activists from various groups signed a ceremonial pledge to provide “places of safety and support for those who choose to walk away” from criminal activity.
The mayor’s campaign did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
One of two candidates challenging Kenney in the May 21 primary (former City Controller David Butkovitz is the other), Williams, who has been in politics for more than 30 years, referenced one of the most highly publicized homicides during the crack cocaine wars that plagued the city in the 1980s to make his point.
In July 1988, 5-year-old Marcus Yates was playing inside a corner store at 60th Street and Springfield Avenue when he was killed in the crossfire between rival gangs.
In a city that experienced 460 murders that year and at times seemed numb to the violence that spiraled out of control, this stood out more than others. This was the first of three extremely violent years in Philadelphia, which recorded 489 and 505 murders over the next two years.
The Yates murder occurred the same year that Williams was elected to the state House as a representative for the 191st District. His visibility heightened as one of the leaders of Neighborhoods United Against Drugs, a grass-roots organization that provided outlets for teenagers to keep them safe and away from neighborhood violence.
Williams thinks a similar intervention program — with an emphasis on members of the community becoming more involved — is key to combating escalating violence.
“No policy can work unless you actively have the community involved in what you are doing,” Williams said. “I don’t see that.”