‘We’re tired of losing our loved ones’: Young Philadelphians rally against gun violence

The demonstration, which will move from Center City to North Philly, is a call to action aimed at city leaders and residents.

Sarai Ford

Sarai Ford marches with a group of young people calling for an end to gun violence on July 20. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Updated: 6:00 p.m.

A group of young activists plans to march 4.5 miles through Philadelphia Monday, demanding an end to gun violence, which has escalated as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into the summer.

The demonstration, which will move from Center City to North Philly, is a call to action aimed at city leaders and residents.

“We’re sick and tired of this. We want a peaceful summer,” said Darrien Johnson, a 22-year-old Strawberry Mansion native and one of the organizers. She was one of about 20 people who gathered in LOVE Park for the start of the rally, despite a heat health emergency and temperatures forecasted to approach 100 degrees.

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“We’re tired of losing our loved ones to the hands of senseless violence,” Johnson said.

As of last week, the number of people murdered in the city is the highest it’s been since 2007. The number of shooting victims stands at 998 people, a 33% increase from the same time last year.

Another organizer, Essence Lawson, said the issue may be worse now, but it isn’t new.

Though Lawson is now 22, still remembers her eighth grade graduation, and how one of her fellow students was fatally shot before having the chance to walk and celebrate with the rest of the class.

That wasn’t the last time Lawson’s sense of safety was threatened by the presence of guns.

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“There’s been instances of guns going off at events, people getting into gun fights and things like that,” she said.

Sarai Ford said she came to the rally because she also knows what it’s like to see friends and classmates die, and she wanted to support her friends in Philly.

“I grew up in North Philadelphia, I was educated in Wilmington, and from here to there I’ve buried people that I went to school with at a young age and I would like to prevent that from happening further,” she said.

Ford, who is now in college, said one of her high school classmates in Wilmington was fatally shot during a candlelight vigil honoring someone else who’d been shot and killed.

Many speakers at Monday’s rally made the case that the issue of gun violence won’t stop without the help of neighbors.

“We have to do that internal work in our community, so we are able to address the injustices that plague us at large,” said Johnson. “This is our city and if we want to see a difference, then it starts with us.”

Ikey Raw, who started an organization to help collect information and solve homicides in Philadelphia, told the small that crowd Black Lives Matter, even when the killer isn’t a member of law enforcement.

“When someone who looks like me kills someone, the streets should be flooded,” Raw said. “We should be protesting, we should be marching, we should be rallying.”

Raw said the “no snitch” culture in some communities is a major problem, as are those who help people committing the violence hide their weapons.

“We can’t let our relatives hide guns in our house,” he said. “We can’t let our relatives hide in our house after they shot someone in the streets.”

City leaders, however, are not off the hook. Johnson said protesters demand prosecutors communicate better with families who await justice for their loved ones who’ve been killed.

The demonstration plans to stop at Broad Street and Erie Avenue, where a poet will read a piece while performers reenact the murder of someone’s son. The final stop will be at Hunting Park, where protesters will release balloons to remember those lost to gun violence in recent years.

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