More security cameras, gun buybacks, and job trainings: Council unveils anti-violence agenda

City Council President Darrell Clarke announced the Neighborhood Preservation Initiative in Philadelphia’s South Kensington neighborhood.

City Council President Darrell Clarke announced the Neighborhood Preservation Initiative in Philadelphia’s South Kensington neighborhood on Oct. 15, 2020. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

As Philadelphia’s gun violence epidemic continues to rage and days before Mayor Jim Kenney proposes the city’s next budget, city councilmembers and community anti-violence advocates unveiled a series of interventions they hope will help mitigate the crushing gun violence crisis.

Dubbed the Violence Prevention and Opportunity Agenda, the strategy highlights the role existing anti-poverty initiatives will play in stabilizing neighborhoods with the understanding that deep poverty is linked to violence. The agenda includes the city’s $400 million Neighborhood Preservation Initiative, which focuses on affordable housing, eviction prevention programs, and investments into neighborhood commercial corridors. The city will also use the $10 million New Normal Jobs Initiative, which focuses on community job training programs.

Other highlights include stronger gun laws such as lost and stolen handgun reporting, suing the state for its inaction of gun violence, gun buyback programs, and adding more security cameras in neighborhoods based on need.

There’s no details about spending outlined in the plan. Joe Grace, a spokesperson for City Council, said there will likely be more funding appropriated during future budget negotiations.

Standing at NoMo Inc., a North Philadelphia early intervention and job-readiness organization that prioritizes youth from vulnerable communities, Council President Darrell Clarke and members Cherelle Parker, Curtis Jones, Mark Squilla, and Kenyatta Johnson presented the agenda Tuesday, one day before the mayor’s planned budget briefing.

“The levels of gun violence seen in our city today are unprecedented and unacceptable,”  Clarke said. “We must think and act differently. We will prioritize programs that offer young people hope and the opportunity to put their energies to more constructive uses – in jobs and full-time employment.”

Johnson, the chair of City Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention, called the plan “a strong first step as Council and Mayor Jim Kenney start discussions on gun violence prevention funding in the upcoming Fiscal 2022 operating budget.”

There will also be ongoing hearings that will examine the police, the District Attorney’s Office, and the criminal justice system’s response to gun violence. The city also wants to re-up it’s use of Group Violence Intervention, a program that brings people who have been involved in gun violence into conversation with police, probation officers, community leaders, and at-risk residents.

As of Sunday, there have been 139 homicides in 2021 — a 36% increase recorded over the same period last year.

“It is the job of government to facilitate job creation, training, and career development for our residents that create pathways to good jobs, careers, and opportunities as part of a violence-prevention strategy,” Parker said. “Jobs are a proven deterrent to violence. A good job for a young woman or a young man can be the difference between a career that lasts for a lifetime or a life that is cut tragically short.”

Rickey Duncan, NoMo’s executive director, said he’s excited about the plan because of the city’s approach of linking jobs to combating gun violence.

“I think gun violence stems from a lack of job opportunities and poverty,” Duncan said. “This didn’t happen overnight so the solution won’t be overnight and we’re not going to put a band-aid over something that requires surgery.”

The agenda also includes declaring gun violence a citywide emergency and treating it as a public health epidemic. Councilmember Jamie Gauthier began pushing for such an approach last fall when she wrote a letter to Kenney about the issue. She was also behind the resolution that called on the mayor to host regular public updates on gun violence, like the ones the city does to provide updates on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jamal Johnson, an activist, has gone on two hunger strikes as a protest against Kenney’s perceived inaction. Johnson stopped his second hunger strike after Kenney began hosting his gun violence briefings last month.

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