Updated at 7:34 p.m. on 9/1/20.
As of this weekend, more than 300 people have been murdered in Philadelphia, a gut-wrenching statistic that comes even as community activists, nonprofits and young people have mobilized against a rising tide of gun violence.
At least 301 people have been killed in the city so far this year — people who left behind families, friends and communities. That figure represents a 33% increase from this time in 2019 and is the highest number of murders the city has seen at this point in the year since 2007.
Most of the murder victims, 244 of them, were Black men and boys. Of the 21 women and girls killed, 15 were Black. More than half — 57% — of the murder victims were Black men between the ages of 18 and 34.
At least 19 people were shot between Friday and Sunday, two of them fatally, according to the Philadelphia Police Department. That brings the number of shooting victims this year to 1,334, a nearly 42% increase from the year before.
On Thursday morning, City Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention will hold another hearing “to address Philadelphia’s enduring plague of gun violence by facilitating coordination among stakeholders and formulating a comprehensive gun violence prevention strategy.”
.@CouncilmemberKJ‘s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention will hold another public hearing on the gun violence issue in Phila. on Thursday, September 3 starting at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time. If you would like to sign up to testify, do so by 3 p.m. September 2. Details below: pic.twitter.com/FC8LTWtPgG
— Kenyatta Johnson (@CouncilmemberKJ) August 27, 2020
It has some people asking: What’s new?
“We’re doing the same things over and over again,” said a “tired” Isaac “Ikey Raw” Gardner, a longtime anti-violence advocate, who investigates unsolved murders in his free time.
The many factors, including poverty, lack of job opportunities and adequate education, that lead people to commit gun violence and to become caught in the crossfire are complex, said Gardner, and addressing these issues will take time and funding.
Gardner is skeptical a groundbreaking solution will reveal itself at Thursday’s meeting. He maintains the city knows what it has to do.
“If you telling the youth to put the guns down … we have to have something to give them to replace that,” he said. “Because I’m going to be honest with you, you have a lot of guys and women who are in the streets doing crime and doing what they have to do to… To them, they’re taking care of their families.”
He and other activists working on the ground have long emphasized the need to reach out to young people “doing the shooting” and connect them to programs that will help them finish their GEDs or connect them to jobs that will help them provide for their families.
It’s something the city’s Office of Violence Prevention is trying with the Gun Violence Intervention program it launched this month in Southwest Philadelphia. Their goal is to reach out to some of the 1% of Philadelphians pulling the trigger and offer them alternatives.
But the coronavirus pandemic has slowed the program’s rollout and the shootings haven’t abated.
On Friday night, a 34-year-old man was shot in the foot around 11 p.m. in Northeast Philadelphia. An hour and a half later, while police broke up a fight in Strawberry Mansion, they heard gunshots and found an unresponsive man with multiple gunshot wounds, who later died.
At around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, two men, a 19- and a 23-year-old, were shot in West Philadelphia, police said. Thirty minutes later, close to where officers had broken up the fight in Strawberry Mansion, two more men were shot, one in his 30s and the other whose age was not yet known. One man whose age is unknown died, according to police.
On Sunday afternoon in North Philadelphia, police found 26-year-old Shaheed Edwards with multiple gunshot wounds to the head and neck. Edwards died at Temple University Hospital.
Edwards is the only victim whose name has been released by law enforcement.
“We have too many anti-violence groups for the murder rate to be this high,” said Gardner, who takes issue with what he feels is a lack of accountability in how violence prevention funding is distributed.
Earlier this month, during another batch of hearings convened to address the shootings, city councilmembers slammed the Office of Violence Prevention for not being able to say how many at-risk residents it had helped. During the hearing, city officials said they would provide that information to City Council.
In a statement, the office said it offered the council additional details about their work, though they did not share those with WHYY News.
The statement said the office is “redoubling” efforts around the evidence-backed strategies the city is already committed to.
“This also means raising the profile of social services and supports in violence interruption, through our new Group Violence Intervention strategy, and the Community Crisis Intervention Program continues to help individuals find alternatives to violence,” read the statement.
The office has a $9.4 million budget.
In a statement, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, the committee chair, said Thursday’s hearing “will look at local, state, and federal efforts to stop shootings and underlying offenses including illegal gun trafficking, straw purchasing, and illegal gun possession.”
His constituents, said Johnson, want to know where the guns are coming from.
Last month, Johnson and 15 other members of council wrote the Philadelphia office of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for help finding out how illegal guns are getting into Philadelphia. Johnson said they have yet to hear back.
Gardner called the hearings a “dog-and-pony show.” The way he sees things, activists on the ground are what keep people out of trouble. He doesn’t need a meeting to tell him that, he said.
But 16-year-old Ramier Jones is optimistic the hearing will help move a larger conversation forward about how to curb gun violence in the middle of a pandemic.
The anti-violence activist agrees with Gardner that poverty is one of the driving factors in violence and why Philadelphia has struggled with shootings over the years. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has only left families on shakier economic footing, said Jones.
Jones, who sits on the Mayor’s Youth Commission, said city councilmembers need residents to be their eyes and ears, and explain just how the pandemic is making the violence worse.
“The councilmembers hear what the community is saying and then after that they say, ‘OK, we need to make this bill, this piece of legislation to really change the impact of different things that are happening.’”
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