A festival aims to offer a safe space to decompress from Philly’s violence

Philly Truce is an app that connects troubled neighborhoods with trained mediators who can calm disputes before they erupt in violence. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philly Truce is an app that connects troubled neighborhoods with trained mediators who can calm disputes before they erupt in violence. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

At least 15 people were shot between Friday and Monday during the holiday weekend as violence in the city continues. Two men trying to abate the crisis using a mobile app are hosting a festival at FDR Park this weekend in hopes of giving residents a safe space to decompress.

“It’s just a time that we need to be thinking about healing and, you know, not have our focus on violence because it’s so, so permeated in our city to no end at this point,” said Mazzie Casher, co-creator of the Philly Truce App. The platform allows residents to report brewing neighborhood conflicts and people to volunteer and train to work as mediators to help de-escalate those conflicts before shooting starts.

“Just to not have to hear any news or homicide tally or just to not have that on your mind at all, you know, for a couple of days,” Casher said.

The three-day 9/11 Weekend Family Healing Festival starts Friday at 6 p.m. with an open-air movie night. The weekend will feature food vendors and dozens of community organizations offering resources. Vendors can donate a portion of what they make to the Philly Truce app as the weekend will serve as a way to raise funds for the effort. COVID-19 vaccinations will be made available Saturday and Sunday, as well as drum lines, African dance and yoga classes.

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The organization launched the app in the spring, spreading the word through public events, said Casher.

To date, Casher reports close to 1,000 downloads of the app across Apple and Android platforms. He said about 80 requests have been made for help de-escalating a problem; about 10% have gone through full mediation.

Casher and app co-creator Steven Pickens hope to make a difference as the city enters the week with 355 homicides and 2,698 shootings — 16% and 13% increases from this time last year, respectively.

More than 265 people have trained to be mediators, though Casher said there’s a gap between the number of people who sign up for training and those who follow through. The app calls for people to volunteer as mediators, which is no easy job. Even before the launch of the app the possibility of relying too heavily on people without experience came up as a possible issue.

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Casher said for the app to work, all parties have to see the process through, even if that means sitting through multiple mediation sessions.

The weekend festival is also meant to be a celebration of people who have trusted that process.

“We just would like to invite everyone out … not just [to] support Philly Truce but support your organization and support what resources that they have to offer across the city,” said Pickens.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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