Councilman addresses escalating violence

City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, with Police Captain Martin Derbyshire on his right, speaks to community residents in South Philadelphia about efforts to stop gun violence. — Photograph by Tribune Chief Photographer Abdul Sulayman

Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson held a press conference late Tuesday afternoon to speak about escalating violence in his district.

Johnson said he was responding to numerous requests from residents of the 2nd Council District. Johnson and a group of law enforcement officers and community leaders gathered at the Vare Recreation Center at 26th and Morris streets to talk about the problem of violence in Grays Ferry, and followed up the meeting with a safety walk — touring the locations of the shootings in the violence-plagued community.

“I’m here standing with members of the South Philadelphia community calling for a cease-fire and an end to the senseless violence taking place in our neighborhoods; specifically in Grays Ferry and Point Breeze,” Johnson said. “I stand here today with members of the community to call on those young men who are engaged in gun violence and neighborhood turf wars. Over the last several weeks they’ve been running through the streets of Grays Ferry carrying guns, pointing them at one another, at police officers and most recently the murder of a young man in these streets.”

According to law enforcement officials, on Monday, Jan. 13, Philadelphia police officers were forced to fire their weapons at a teenager who was armed with a rifle and pointed it at the officers after being ordered to drop the firearm. The incident happened in the 1600 block of South Corlies Street just after 4:00 p.m. Investigators reported that a detective and an officer with the state Attorney General’s Office were in the vicinity to serve a warrant. They observed a 16-year old boy walking down the street carrying a rifle.

The suspect was ordered to drop the weapon; instead the teen pointed the gun at the officers and one of them opened fired. He missed the teen, who dropped the rifle and fled the scene. About 45 minutes later the boy was arrested in the vicinity of 26th and Dickinson Streets. There was a minor traffic accident during the pursuit of the suspect, whose name has not been released yet.

“As an elected official and a resident of South Philadelphia, I get a little apprehensive as to how to address this issue,” said Johnson. “I’ve spoken with Captain Martin Derbyshire of the 17th District and other elected officials, including District Attorney Seth Williams to see how we can bring a level of calm and peace in this community. The community leaders standing with me and residents of these neighborhoods would text me in the middle of the night saying the young men who are shooting up this community must put their guns down. The young men who are terrorizing this community must stop and we’re going to work very closely with law enforcement to stop it. We’re looking at comprehensive long-term solutions. But this isn’t a problem just for law enforcement; we have to come together as a community. I was asked to organize this press conference; this is not a political stunt or an effort to get some press. The community asked me to do this.”

On Jan. 9 a 19-year-old Black male was killed by two still unidentified gunmen in the vicinity of the 1600 block of Bailey Street. Investigators said the incident happened just after 5:00 p.m. and the victim was shot multiple times. Officers from the 17 District rushed to the scene and when they arrived they found the victim suffering from a gunshot wound to this right thigh and shoulder. He was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where he was pronounced dead at 5:33 p.m. He was later identified as Montrell Freemann Jr., of the 1100 block of South 26th Street. As of Tribune press time no arrests have been made and the motive hasn’t been determined.

“I understand the community’s concerns, but briefly, I would like to report on our successes in these neighborhoods,” said Captain Derbyshire, commander of the 17th Police District. “Specifically talking about gun violence, we did reduce shootings and shooting victims, which I’m sure you heard about on the news. We know we have a lot of work to do and there are pockets in this district where the numbers did not go down. More importantly we specifically know who the individuals are and the different group are who are causing the violence. We know exactly who they are; we see their names again and again. Our officers know them by face, their names and who their friends are. We know the cars they drive and where they hang out. We have a gang task force that was formed in 2013 for this district and it is still operating in 2014 and it was very effective. There are good kids in this district and we’re putting our energy on the ones who are causing the problem. We have a program here called Focused Deterrence which has performed very well.”

Derbyshire said the way Focused Deterrence works is that law enforcement officials confront the young men most likely to cause gun violence. The investigators explain exactly what is going to happen if they break the law and that they know precisely what they’re involved in. More important, the young men are provided with a way out of their situations through social services, education and job training.

“We know some of these guys want to get out of the street life and some have taken advantage of this; others haven’t,” Derbyshire said. “We’re stopping their cars and we’re locking them up. We’ve confiscated several guns in the last 48 hours. But all of the law enforcement isn’t going to be effective without the community backing us up. Even if you get a tip that something is about to happen we need to know so we can deploy our officers.”

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Contact staff writer Larry Miller at (215) 893-5782 or lmiller@phillytrib.com.

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