Why is gun violence in Philly ‘exploding’ when solutions exist?
Community activists, educators, health care professionals and journalists came together in hopes of reversing a deadly trend.
There was a shooting in Philadelphia every six hours in 2018. Jim MacMillan contends that didn’t have to be.
“We know how to stop gun violence,” MacMillan, founder of IBGVR.org, the Initiative for Better Gun Violence Reporting, said Saturday at a conference designed to spread the word on what he and others contend are effective deterrents.
Community activists; young people from the inner city; mothers of children killed by guns; and reporters from television, online, and print news outlets gathered to talk about how better to cover gun violence in the city and share commonsense solutions.
The daylong session took place on the Temple Health Sciences Campus in North Philadelphia, organized by the Initiative for Better Gun Violence Reporting, Mothers in Charge, Resolve Philadelphia, and the Coalition of Trauma Centers for Firearm Injury Prevention. Funded by the City of Philadelphia Office of Violence Prevention, the results will be presented at a follow-up event in November at WHYY.
“I love this city, and we know how to stop gun violence. That’s why I’m doing this,” said MacMillan, a former Daily News staff photographer who was part of a team of Associated Press photographers who shared a 2005 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of combat in Iraq.
Philadelphia has funded gun violence prevention programs that have worked in the past, MacMillan noted. In 2013, for instance, the city supported a program of “focused deterrence” that identified shooters and their social networks.
“Their parents, their friends, community leaders, the police, would host ‘call-in’ get-togethers and tell the shooters they had an option — leave the gang or their criminal network and we’ll set you up with job training and opportunities. If you don’t, we’ll come for you,” MacMillan said.
The program reduced gun violence 25% in just one year, but then ended. “We still need to share these solutions that have worked,” he said.
In addition, Operation CeaseFire Philadelphia hires young men who have either been shot or pulled the trigger themselves to mediate disputes in the community and prevent retaliation. The strategy was the subject of a 2011 documentary, The Interrupters. The movie can be viewed for free on PBS’s website, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/interrupters/.
H. Jean Wright, director of behavioral health and justice-related services in the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, identified trauma as the key predictor of gun violence, particularly among males of color. Adverse childhood experiences — sexual or other abuse, neglect, or substance addiction — can impel someone to fire a weapon, Wright said.
“Hurt people then go on to hurt people,” Wright said. “And as a victim, when and if you survive a shooting, it’s not over.”
Routine trauma, particularly among African American boys and men, “is similar to the mini-strokes that lead up to a really bad stroke," Wright said. "It’s the same with trauma among young men. We become numb to it. And when adults don’t recognize that as routine, when they say, ‘Man Up,’ to young men instead of asking them to express their feelings,” that can lead to violence.
Wright pointed to two programs already working for those who are incarcerated.
One is F.A.C.T. — Fathers and Children Together — in which men serving time in the State Correctional Institution Phoenix, in Montgomery County, learn how to co-parent from prison.
“We have found that their children’s behavioral problems go down and their grades go up,” he said.
Another program, Community Forgiveness & Restoration, connects inmates with a faith community a year prior to their release.
“Prisoners are taught how to love themselves, how to work with a life coach,” and to avoid recidivism, Wright said. Community Forgiveness & Restoration will host a symposium Sept. 21 at Christian Stronghold, 4701 Lancaster Ave., West Philadelphia.
Philadelphians also have the power to make a difference as individuals, Wright said.
“Find a young person,” Wright said. “Are you an empty nester? Ask the principal of your local school: ‘Who’s the most challenged? Who needs help?’ ”
Public health education “has changed behaviors related to drunk and distracted driving, practicing safe sex, seat-belt use, and smoking,” said MacMillan. “And the same strategies can reduce gun violence. Journalists also need to present actionable, evidence-based responses to consumers, communities, and civic leaders."
Monica Robinson, a news producer at CBS3, said the city’s “exploding” gun violence is “also disturbing on a personal level as an African American woman.” As a side job at PhillyCAM, Robinson helps others express their fears and frustration on Philadelphia’s public access television network.
“We are literally giving them a voice,” she said in an interview at the conference.
The Initiative for Better Gun Violence Reporting will host its inaugural summit Nov. 8 at WHYY, where reporters, community members who have experienced gun violence, and experts in public health, criminology, and other fields will develop a preliminary set of best practices for news organizations covering community gun violence. The event will include solutions-focused discussions, break-out sessions and lightning talks, and will present preliminary data on gun violence reporting. Details are available at www.ibgvr.org.