Elected officials, clergy applaud increased funding for violence prevention in Philly

Rev. Robert Collier addresses the media at a press conference

Rev. Robert Collier, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia, led a press conference applauding City Council’s allocation of funds to fight gun violence, and calling for justice for all on Monday, June 28, 2021, at City Hall. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A day after another violent weekend in Philadelphia, elected officials and religious leaders gathered in Center City to applaud a funding deal that will see the city spend $155 million on anti-violence efforts during the fiscal year that starts July 1 — far more than the amount listed in Mayor Jim Kenney’s initial budget proposal in April.

“Certainly, that shows some commitment to fund efforts to treat the second pandemic in Philadelphia, known as gun violence. A pandemic, I might add, that took the lives of 499 people in 2020, mostly our young Black and brown males,” said Rev. Robert Collier, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity.

Hailed as “historic,” the plan came together after groups, including Collier’s, and city lawmakers urged the Kenney administration to spend more on violence prevention measures in the face of an unrelenting surge in shootings and homicides. It includes $87 million in existing funding and $68.3 million in new funds for FY22.

Reverend Gregory Holsten addresses the media at a press conference
Reverend Gregory Holsten, an advisor to the DA, thanked City Council members for their support of 155 million dollars in the city budget for anti-gun violence, calling for more staffing for recreational centers affected by violence in Philadelphia on June 28, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A total of $49 million will go to support grassroots anti-violence organizations, out-of-school programming, and targeted community investment grants.

Another $30 million will go to a pair of violence prevention programs run by the city, transitional jobs initiatives, and a mental health co-response program. Roughly $10 million of that total will be used to restore funding to the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Free Library of Philadelphia, which both saw budget cuts during the coronavirus pandemic.

There is also $7.1 million earmarked for workforce development and job training through the Commerce Department, as well as the creation of two “curfew centers” — places where unattended juveniles are brought until a parent or guardian can pick them up.

Standing outside City Hall, City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier celebrated the unprecedented investment, but also delivered a warning echoed by the anti-violence organizations now in line to receive those city dollars.

“As important as all of this funding is, whether or not we will look back on this as a turning point in our fight against gun violence depends on the way we put these dollars to work,” said Gauthier.

A total of $20 million is now on the table specifically to support grassroots organizations, a far cry from the $100 million the Black Clergy and others wanted, but decidedly more than what Mayor Kenney initially proposed in April.

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier addresses the media at a press conference
3rd District City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier said that no one in Philadelphia should have live with trauma at a press conference at City Hall on June 28, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Kenney administration and City Council recently committed to establishing a Violence Prevention Opportunity review committee, comprising appointees by the council and the administration, to review grant applications for violence prevention funding, according to City Council spokesperson Joe Grace.

It’s unclear who will sit on the committee, how it will decide which groups should be funded, or how much money a given organization should receive.

“We look forward to collaborating with Council on the design of the community grant program, including tools for evaluating the effectiveness,” mayoral spokesperson Deana Gamble told WHYY’s Billy Penn last week.

More than 1,000 people have been injured or killed by gunfire so far this year, a 24% increase over the same time in 2020, the deadliest year Philadelphia has seen in three decades.  

The total includes the 20 people who were shot, three of them fatally, between 5 p.m. on Friday and 1 p.m. on Sunday, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The victims included a 10-year-old boy who police believe accidentally shot himself in the head in the Tioga section of North Philadelphia. An 18-year-old man and a 24-year-old man were also fatally shot during that stretch.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes addresses the media at a press conference
State Sen. Vincent Hughes said Pennsylvania should step up and give as much money as in the Philadelphia budget to fight gun violence at a press conference at City Hall on June 28, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

During Monday’s news conference, speaker after speaker made it clear the $155 million plan was a victory, but not the end of the fight for more anti-violence funding for Philadelphia.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes, who represents parts of West and Northwest Philadelphia, lamented that the state budget lawmakers passed last week includes $7 billion in reserves — between federal stimulus dollars and excess revenue — money he said could be used to help reduce gun violence in the city and around the state.

Councilmember at-Large Helen Gym addresses the media at a press conference
Councilmember at-Large Helen Gym spoke of disproportionate rate of gun violence in particular neighborhoods in Philadelphia, and also celebrated the allocation by City Council for new funds to fight gun violence at a press conference at City Hall on June 28, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“It is a crime. It is as violent as any gunshot to allow those kinds of dollars to remain unspent when there’s this kind of hell and this kind of pain that our people are going through,” said Hughes.

The next state budget includes a total of $30 million for community-based, anti-violence organizations around Pennsylvania.

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