Gun violence activists in North Philly are calling on the city to invest $100 million in their neighborhood following the recent fatal shooting of Temple University Police Officer Christopher Fitzgerald and a separate spray of gunfire that injured six children and one adult.
On Monday several dozen people gathered at the Frontline Dads Teen Safe Space on North Broad Street, which offers a free kitchen, library, music production space, and meeting room to the neighborhood. Nonprofit directors, business leaders, and politicians vowed to lend a hand in the fight against gun violence – offering everything from affordable housing help to Tai Chi classes.
At a press conference directly following the meeting, Frontline Dads executive director Reuben Jones called on the city to put millions directly into reducing blight in North Philly and other neighborhoods experiencing the aftermath of historic disinvestment.
The City of Philadelphia has put nearly $400 million into anti-violence efforts over the last two years, but doesn’t provide a clear breakdown of how those dollars were allocated by neighborhood.
Jones said the money hasn’t made his area safer.
“$100 million to start fighting gun violence, to be dispersed among these community leaders – not another city office,” Jones said. “We’re talking about putting resources into these communities that’s been depleted and neglected for almost a hundred years.”
The event took place close to 18th and Susquehanna – one of the 57 Philadelphia blocks where 10 or more people have been shot since 2015 according to city data. These blocks are located in areas that were redlined in the 1930s, meaning the city deemed them “hazardous” and lowered property values there.
Residents at the event complained about vacant lots, unlit streets, debris piles, and boarded-up homes. The 57 Blocks Project, a new coalition of grassroots groups that was present Monday, is planning clean-up and patrol events on some of these blocks this spring.
Derwood Selby raised his family in the area, and said community members need to be out and present in the neighborhood in order to deter crime.
“It’s not safe,” he said. “And we’re dealing with kids! These are kids, they just runnin’ around.”
Corey, a 7th grader who lives in the neighborhood, was sitting on a stoop with two friends when Selby and a group of about a dozen adults walked by.
“It doesn’t really prevent what’s still gonna happen,” Corey said of the march. “But it may put a small stop to it.”
The boys felt the most important change in the neighborhood would be making sure children have safe places to be when not in school, encouraging parents to set better examples, and limiting access to firearms.
“Some people’s parents have access to guns already, and then that makes it easy for a child to get them,” Corey said. “If you have a gun in your basement, it would be easy for your child to get to that and something could happen on the streets.”
All three boys said it would be easy to attain a firearm if they needed one, either off of the internet or from someone they know.
“The number one thing is to get the youths off the street, get them more activities to do, community events,” said 16-year-old Malik Diggins, who participated in the Monday action.
“What gives me hope is what we’re doing right now – we’re just shoutin’ in the streets, peace on the streets, making people know that peoples’ here to help out, reduce gun violence and stuff like that.”
Diggins is part of Frontline Dads, which provides a weekly mentoring program for young men ages 12 to 17, as well as a Peacemakers program that trains young people to patrol their own neighborhoods and de-escalate conflict.
Several other organizations and faith leaders at the meeting offered exercise and meditation programs, bi-weekly peace walks, food giveaways, and other resources.
The City of Philadelphia did not respond to requests for comment on the neighborhood’s request for funding. Discussions around the fiscal year 2024 budget will begin this spring.
Up the Block has more information on gun violence prevention programs.
If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources online.