Felicia Pendleton’s cell phone rang last month. It was her teenage son. A friend of his had just been put out of his house and had nowhere to go.
Pendleton considered calling the young man an Uber and sending him back home. Instead she started working the phones, trying to find him somewhere safe to stay for a while.
She didn’t like the idea of sending him to a shelter, and no way was she going to let the two teens spend the night on the front steps, a plan the friends hatched. She let him stay the night, and the next day started making calls again to help mend fences with his family and get resources for them to work things out.
What choice did the working mother have? It was an emergency.
See, that’s how people should react when faced with a situation that calls for immediate action. But as the hours ticked by inside Council chambers on Wednesday, I was convinced that was a lesson that had somehow gotten past some of our public officials.
So far this year, more than 660 people have been shot in Philadelphia, more than 160 fatally. We made national news after a deadly Father’s Day weekend, where 29 people were shot, including at a graduation party.
The bloodshed hasn’t stopped.
This is a state of emergency, and yet top law enforcement leaders were gathered for an “emergency” public meeting on gun violence that clocked in at over three hours. Some observations of the mind-numbing minutes: Our law enforcement bosses have bigger posses than rappers. I’m just going to go ahead and believe that public officials get bonuses for simultaneously being able to point fingers and pat themselves on the back — you know, considering how they never have enough money or resources … and often from where I sit, transparent accounting of how their money is spent.
Speaking of … I’ve said this since 2017, and I’ll say it until the city actually does it, but not one more cent (or upward of $13 million) should be spent on anti-violence programs until there is evidence that they work. Here’s a freebie: The relentless shootings are a tell.
And while we’re at it, not one more cent should be given to people who make handsome livelihoods fighting gun violence, mostly in theory. That includes the Office of Violence Prevention. After the first guy the city hired to lead the office conceded he was in over his head — I’m not making it up, he said as much on Radio Times — they now have three people each making over $100,000 to promote a report that still lacks the one thing that guarantees we’ll be having more emergency meetings: accountability.
I want to love that they gave $700,000 in grants to neighborhood groups to help reduce gun violence. But we can’t keep throwing money around without measuring the effectiveness of the programs – all programs.
If that strikes you as harsh, I promise them and you it’s nowhere near as harsh as mothers burying their children, families of homicide victims disrespected by a District Attorney’s Office that too often acts as if there are only victims on one side of the criminal justice system.
By a city whose residents keep getting conned by people and plans that fail, with no consequences — to them, anyway.
I had been thinking about Pendleton on the way into City Hall on Wednesday when I spotted her in line.
Three years earlier, in 2016, at another emergency meeting in response to youth gun violence, Pendleton waited until all the suits had done their dance and took the microphone. Her son had been gunned down just three weeks earlier. Her pain was raw, but through tears she demanded to know what the city was going to do to save other young men, like her son’s friends.
Promises were made then, too.
Three years later, one of her son’s friends is dead.
Pendleton minced no words on the way up to the meeting. “I’m pissed.”
She sat in the room for hours.
“Déjà vu,” she said, after she finally gave up and left.
I left, too, after hearing only one mild bright spot – Councilwoman Helen Gym telling everyone, in essence, to save their lists and studies and just do what needs to be done to save lives — now.
“At this point, all we can do is pray on it because it’s bad, it’s depressing,” Pendleton said, pausing for a moment.