Shootings are up 67 percent in Philly, but few can yet say why

Six people were shot early Friday morning on North Broad Street in Philadelphia’s Hunting Park neighborhood. (NBC10)

Six people were shot early Friday morning on North Broad Street in Philadelphia’s Hunting Park neighborhood. (NBC10)

Six people were injured early Friday night in a north Philadelphia neighborhood after masked men jumped out of a vehicle and opened fire on them, according to police. It’s part of a dramatic spike in shootings, and came just days after CBS Philly reported a separate incident that left six others wounded and one dead in Spring Garden.

But so far, it’s not clear what is driving an increase in shootings, homicides, and mass-casualty events, defined as acts of violence with three or more victims.

According to numbers from the Philadelphia Police Department, as of June 11 the city has seen 178 homicides, a 25% increase compared to this time last year.

As of June 7, 712 people were victims of gun violence this year, 29.7% above the 2019 figures. When it comes to the number of shootings, it’s up 66.9% during the same period. Those numbers do not take into account the mass shootings that happened in the last week.

Even among people who study gun violence, there’s no clear explanation yet for the increase.

“I can’t recall that happening before,” said Jim MacMillan, who leads the Initiative for Better Gun Violence Reporting, of the 25% increase in homicides.

While shooting deaths have been creeping up gradually since 2014, the current rate of incidents caught MacMillan’s attention.

In particular, he was struck by the frequency of mass-casualty shootings like this week’s, and the days when the number of victims has reached double digits.

“I just haven’t seen the sort of evidence that convinces me we know why,” he said.

Another researcher, Prof. Caterina Roman of Temple University’s Department of Criminal Justice, wrote in an email that given all the variables from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic “there are so many hypotheses that could have merit” in explaining the increases.

Even though Philadelphia’s crime rate overall decreased during the month coronavirus restrictions went into effect, the number of shootings remained flat.

One anti-violence organizer, Dr. Dorothy Johnson-Speight of the group Mothers In Charge, attributed it in part to the absence of outreach workers due to the coronavirus, as well as insufficient resources for intervention from the city.

“The limited programs that are available have been shut down,” Johnson-Speight said of street-level outreach.

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