On Monday afternoon, roughly 150 residents and activists rallied in front of City Hall to rail against ever-escalating gun violence in Philadelphia.
“Where’s the outrage?” asked Dorothy Johnson-Speight, founder of the group Mothers in Charge, pointing to the small crowd the rally drew compared to many Black Lives Matter demonstrations that have drawn hundreds.
At least two dozen people, including two young children and a pregnant woman, were shot in Philadelphia over the weekend.
On Saturday night, a mass shooting injuring six people cut a West Philly barbeque short, while in North Philadelphia, a bullet grazed an 11-year-old boy’s shoulder as he walked home from a basketball game. A bullet grazed another 11-year-old boy as gunfire rang out in Grays Ferry on Sunday.
As of Sunday, police report 1,139 people have been shot in Philadelphia, a 36% increase from the same time last year.
This latest spate of shootings comes less than a week after 7-year-old Zamar Jones was fatally caught in a shootout between adults last week while playing on his porch.
Zamar and the two 11-year-old boys injured this weekend bring the number of children shot in the city to at least 102, per an analysis by The Philadelphia Inquirer. Following Zamar’s death, city leaders descended on his block last Thursday for an emergency meeting to decry the untenable violence and promise greater resources to bolster the neighborhood.
At City Hall for a rally against gun violence. More than 1,100 people have been shot this year, a 36% increase from this time last year. More than 100 of those shot have been children, per an Inquirer analysis pic.twitter.com/sjtjhcEdzj
— Ximena Conde (@RadioXimena) August 10, 2020
Just a few days later at City Hall, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson kicked off the rally, acknowledging the harm that growing up around violence can do to young people in the city. He called on the school district to incorporate conflict resolution components in student curricula and to provide more services to address the trauma students face.
When it comes to funding, Johnson said “when there’s a will, there’s a way,” but he encouraged the city to “think outside the box” for these proposals and perhaps get counseling for students through local health systems.
“Why aren’t we partnering with some of the best and brightest health care institutions here in the city of Philadelphia?” he asked. “Like the University of Pennsylvania Penn Health Systems, like Temple University Health Systems, like Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Health Systems.”
The city also needs help keeping guns out of the hands of the wrong people, he added.
Johnson wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives asking for help in finding where the weapons used in these shootings are coming from.
Johnson said the police and District Attorney’s Office could “put a chokehold where the illegal guns are coming from” if they had better data on how many guns are coming through straw purchases compared to how many are stolen from individual homes, and whether they were coming from in or outside of the state.
Johnson, who chairs City Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention, has also called for two days of emergency hearings on the issue. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the public will have an opportunity to hear from city officials, including the District Attorney’s Office, the Philadelphia Police Department, and the Mayor’s Office and Probation and Parole. Monday afternoon, members of the public were also invited to sign up to speak.
Dorothy Johnson Speight w/Mothers in Charge asks: where is the outrage? It’s great people flooded the streets demanding justice for George Floyd, she says, but just as many people should be marching for the children hurt by gun violence
— Ximena Conde (@RadioXimena) August 10, 2020
Other speakers at the rally touched on the social factors driving violence, including a “no snitch” culture and a disconnect between older and younger generations.
“There’s no more big mommas, there’s no more mentors,” said Dana Williams.
Young people are told to put down their guns, added WURD radio host and WHYY commentator Solomon Jones, but offered no suitable alternative to life “on the corner.”
Jones and other organizers said they personally could connect young people mentors and work, should they want them.
Still, there was a general agreement in the crowd that support services would not be enough to get guns off the streets.
“We have to understand it’s not an ‘either-or,’ it’s an ‘and,’” said Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw. “Some folks need jobs, a lot of folks need housing, a lot of folks need vocational tools, a lot of folks need an education, a lot of folks need to eat. But some people need to face the consequences of their actions.”
It was a notion echoed by Lakesha Joseph, a first-time protester, even as she called for an end to over-policing. She said residents know where all the people taking part in illegal activities, such as drug-dealing, hang out.
“Patrol the playgrounds,” Joseph asked of the police.
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