Philly teens to reach out to shooters as violence increasingly targets their peers

City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas speaks at an

City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas speaks at an "Enough is Enough" rally against gun violence at LOVE Park in July. Youth organizers are working with Thomas to plan another march next week. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

On July 20, some 20 young activists marched nearly five miles in extreme heat from Center City to North Philadelphia to raise awareness about the toll gun violence is taking on young people.

In the four weeks since, shooting incidents have shown no signs of slowing down, but neither have the young organizers who want to take their message denouncing the violence to the perpetrators.

“A lot of the people who are doing the shootings, the killings, etc., they aren’t making it to these rallies and marches,” said 16-year-old organizer Ramier Jones.

The “Enough is Enough” rallies are part of a new effort by youth activists who want to put an end to the violence. For Jones, the mission is personal after losing a friend to gun violence last year.

Darrien Johnson
Darrien Johnson leads a group of young people marching from City Hall to Hunting Park calling for an end to gun violence on July 20. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The city’s escalating gun violence epidemic, said Jones, is increasingly affecting people his age. Between Saturday night and Sunday morning, at least five teens were shot, one fatally, in less than 12 hours, according to police.

At 9 p.m. Saturday, two men, a 19-year-old and a 29-year-old, were shot by Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia.

Around 1 a.m. Sunday, a 15-year-old girl flagged down police after she’d been shot in the elbow while at Francis Myers Park in Southwest Philadelphia.

Around 1:30 a.m., a 16-year-old boy with multiple gunshot wounds to his torso died from his injuries in Northwest Philadelphia.

And close to 4 a.m., another two teens were shot in West Philly. A 16-year-old boy was left in critical condition after he was shot in the back while a 17-year-old boy remained in stable condition after he was shot in the leg.

None of these shootings have led to arrests yet, and police have not yet released the names of the victims.

The latest data from the Philadelphia Police Department show more than 1,200 people have been shot in the city this year and more than 100 of these victims have been juveniles. In all, shootings in the city are up by 36% percent from last year.

Those numbers already weighed heavy on Jones’ mind, and then he read a Philadelphia Inquirer analysis that found only 18% of the shootings of juveniles led to an arrest. He said he is tired of constantly watching his back when he leaves the house — a feeling shared by many Philadelphians in neighborhoods where shootings have taken place.

“To know that teens, you know people my age who may be going about their daily lives, or maybe even somewhere at night, and that they have to worry about getting shot or even getting caught in a crossfire is scary,” said Jones. “This isn’t normal.”

Jones believes young people have been left with little to occupy them since sports and other activities have been canceled to stop the spread of COVID-19. He thinks this is increasing their chances of staying out late and being at the wrong place at the wrong time. In a paper published last month, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found many of the neighborhoods hit hardest by gun violence during the pandemic have also recorded high rates of coronavirus infections.

The city, said Jones, should sponsor activities that will keep teens out of trouble while adhering to federal health guidelines.

For now, Jones and his fellow organizers are still planning a march with City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas — originally planned for Sunday, but postponed for one week due to inclement weather — from Center City to Snyder Avenue and 5th Street.

Their message to shooters: Put down the guns.

The group is also in discussions with Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner to find ways to reduce violence committed by teens who might be carrying a weapon because of a lack of opportunities or an underlying trauma, said Jones.

“Help them get a job,” he said. “Help them transfer their anger to a different thing.”

Youth will also participate in a virtual town hall Monday evening, hosted by the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity.

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