‘It’s not normal’: After violent Fourth of July weekend, South Philly residents march for change

Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson led a protest chant, “Don’t shoot, I want to live” as residents fed up with gun violence marched through South Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson led a protest chant, “Don’t shoot, I want to live” as residents fed up with gun violence marched through South Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, local organizations, and members of 17th Police District Chaplains rallied with residents in South Philadelphia’s Wharton Square Park Tuesday evening in a march decrying gun violence in the city.

The call to action comes after dozens of shooting incidents took place across the city in a violent Fourth of July weekend. There were at least seven fatalities, including the death of a six-year-old boy who died in an accidental shooting. Two of the deaths were in Johnson’s South Philly district.

“Shame on us for living in a city that allows young men to be murdered day-to-day and we just go about our lives as if it’s normal,” Johnson told the crowd of about 75 people. “It’s not normal.”

Johnson brought attention to some grim police data from this year: the number of shooting victims has jumped 30% compared to this time last year, for a total of more than 901 people.

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South Philadelphia residents marched against gun violence on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Speakers such as Felicia Pendleton, who lost her 20-year-old son to gun violence in 2016, asked families to shun their children or partners who are taking part in the violence.

“If you shut your door and tell that brother, ‘You’re not coming in here with that,’ I guarantee you he’s going to make some steps to change,” she said. “We really have to put our foot down and say we’re not going to tolerate this anymore.”

Pendleton and the crowd followed Johnson who took them to 17th and Wharton streets, where one of the fatal shootings occurred this weekend.

“Don’t shoot, I want to live,” was among the group’s chants. Once at the intersection, more speakers took the megaphone.

Jon Mckay with Lots Inc., an organization that tries to “heal communities through arts, entertainment, education, and media,” said he wants to see messages that address the underlying issues of gun violence — similar to the ubiquitous messaging on slowing the spread of COVID-19.

“Everywhere you look, every puppy store you walk in, every sub[way] you get on it says, ‘Did you treat your trauma today?’” Mckay said. “If we brand them with a message of healing, we will heal.”

Speakers also demanded more investment in violence intervention programs.

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Still, Victoria Wiley, who lost her brother Donte Wiley to gun violence in 2008, said she was tired of the marching and the rallies to denounce violence.

“Yes, a rally is great, but what are we going to do?” she said. “I’m willing to stand on corners if necessary, to ensure nobody is lingering and sitting around and negative behavior is going on.”

Victoria Wiley lost her brother in 2008 to gun violence and said the wounds have never healed for her. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Wiley was among many in the crowd who said what’s happening right now to curb violence is not enough.

Leaders of the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network, the 17th Police District Advisory Council (PDAC), New Options More Opportunities (NOMO) and the City of Dreams Coalition then joined marchers at 24th and Oakford streets where another person was fatally shot this weekend.

Kenyatta and speakers encouraged those marching to get involved in efforts to reduce gun violence.

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