‘A deadly epidemic’: Philly Council pushes city to declare gun violence emergency

Sarai Ford marches with a group of young people calling for an end to gun violence on July 20, 2020. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Sarai Ford marches with a group of young people calling for an end to gun violence on July 20, 2020. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Just last night five people were shot and two killed in a barrage of bullets. Fifty-five bullets were fired at 15 people at a basketball court in Spring Garden. The incident is one of the latest in a surge of violence that has boosted the city’s homicide rate by 32% with 323 deaths — giving Philadelphia the second-highest death count among major U.S. cities, after Chicago.

As city residents are left to deal with daily trauma, City Council, Thursday, passed a resolution urging Mayor Jim Kenney to declare gun violence a citywide emergency.

Introduced by first-term City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, the resolution offers guidance for the city’s response including more transparency around the implementation of anti-gun violence initiatives, more coordination between city agencies, and increased involvement from the private sector, nonprofits, academic institutions, and health care organizations. A new map created by the city controller’s office reveals that while shootings are happening citywide, violence is concentrated in some areas more than others. These so-called “hotspots” could benefit from a coordinated influx of resources.

“We need to do much more than we’re currently doing to address this crisis,” said Gauthier, whose West Philadelphia district includes a number of blocks that have seen repeated acts of violence. “That is why we are calling on Mayor Kenney to lead a coordinated effort that treats this deadly epidemic – which is traumatizing Black and brown communities across Philadelphia – with the urgency it deserves.”

More than 1,400 people have already been shot in Philadelphia this year, surpassing last year’s total altogether.

The resolution calls on the mayor to issue an executive order that would elevate gun violence to the level of COVID-19, with weekly public hearings on the city’s efforts, performance goals, and more.

Last month, Gauthier wrote a letter asking the mayor to declare gun violence a citywide emergency.

Gauthier’s office says they received no formal response, but Kenney acknowledged the letter and says he is considering making the call. The two-term mayor reaffirmed his commitment to “tackling our original public health crisis of gun violence” as a top priority and said “all options remain on the table.”

“One homicide is one too many, however this year too many Philadelphians have had their lives cut tragically short due to gun violence,” said Kenney. “Our Administration maintains our sense of urgency on this mounting public health crisis.”

Kenney ran down a list of efforts from the city including stepping up “evidence-based strategies to interrupt and reduce violence.”

This summer the city kicked off its Group Violence Intervention initiative in Southwest Philadelphia, in which community members offer gun violence perpetrators the help they need, while also warning them of the consequences.

Kenney also pointed to “greater gun control at the state and federal levels of government” and called on state and federal leaders to “develop the courage to shake the grip of the NRA, and enact true reform that keeps guns out of the hands of people with a proven record of violence.”

The mayor also says the increase in gun violence is not exclusive to Philadelphia. Cities across the country are experiencing a spike in such violence due to the pandemic.

“It should not be lost that Philadelphia and other large cities across the nation continue to fight a global pandemic,” said Kenney.

“COVID-19 has strained City resources which is one of the contributing factors why violence continues to rise, not just here, but across the nation. Our high poverty and the economic crisis created by the pandemic are additional contributors, so we continue to focus on fostering an equitable economic recovery so more Philadelphians have greater access to opportunities.”

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