Philly police say social media a catalyst for gun violence among young people

Shown are Philadelphia police vehicles on a traffic stop

File photo: Philadelphia police vehicles are shown in Philadelphia, June 24, 2021. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Philadelphia Police say social media could be a motivator for some serious acts of violence in the city, but there are hopes neighborhood-level interventions could help stem the rising tide of violence.

During the city’s bi-weekly violence update with reporters, Deputy Police Commissioner Ben Naish spoke about how some young people are committing violent acts for bragging rights. Naish said the pandemic was a driving force for the violence, with people cooped up in homes without an outlet to expend their energy. That, he said, resulted in bad acts happening in areas that spread across the country.

“The social media has been driving it,” Naish said. “What we see in our society today, what happens in one part of the country, it doesn’t take years to move across the country, so I think it was starting in other places, and it’s not like I think it would have come here no matter what,” he said.

“They think it’s a game,” Naish said. “It’s a sad indictment of today’s society with some youths that don’t understand the severity of what they are doing is life and death, and it can ruin their life as well as people, the impact that it has on the victims.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

In many homicide investigations, there is specific talk to others on social media on different platforms about violence, he said. “As if it’s like a trophy I am holding up, and it’s all bad things.”

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw added that the youth who are involved in shootings are getting younger and younger.

“These kids are looking for a sense of belonging, and we have to just find ways and outlets [for them],” she said. Outlaw spoke about doing “dumb stuff” during her youth but added that children today have “instruments of harm” and the tools and equipment to commit serious violent acts.

Erica Atwood, senior director of the Office of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Criminal Justice and Public Safety, said they are moving teams of people back into neighborhoods to work on the violence issue now that COVID-19 numbers are trending down. Atwood spoke about the need to “be together and see each other, to get to know each other and to hear from one another as a part of this return to in-person events.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Atwood said one such event is an expungement and pardon clinic with Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, a place Philadelphians who have a criminal record despite being found not guilty in a case can clear their name. The clinic will be Saturday from 12-2 p.m. at the Lenfest Center at 3890 North 10th Street.

Atwood also pointed to continuation of the office’s community listening tour, which is designed to hear feedback and help steer the city’s gun violence prevention strategies.

Get the WHYY app!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal