Mothers of murder victims join to demand more city action to combat gun violence
A handful of women's groups have formed the Mother's Movement to demand that the city do more to decrease gun violence.
As gun violence continues its toll on the city, mothers who have lost children and loved ones to bullets on Thursday gathered at City Hall to challenge city officials over their handling of the crisis.
Calling themselves the Mother’s Movement, more than 30 women ― most founders and members of existing organizations ― gathered at a news conference to demand that the city do more to stop gun violence, to find those who are committing it, and to provide services to survivors.
“We have not been united as one voice on this issue. We believe if that happens we’ll be heard in a way that we have not been heard before,” said Dorothy Johnson-Speight, who founded the nonprofit group Mothers in Charge after the 2001 murder of her son in a dispute over a parking space.
“We will be pulling the men in, but we’re starting off with women because we are the ones who carry these children and nurture these children and bury these children,” said Movita Johnson-Harell, who founded the CHARLES Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on helping at-risk children, after losing two sons to gun violence.
In addition to the CHARLES Foundation and Mothers In Charge, the Mother’s Movement is comprised of women from Every Murder is Real, Moms Bonded by Grief, Mothers United by Angels, the Sultan Jihad Ahmad Foundation, the Jarell Christopher Seay Love and Laughter Foundation, the National Homicide Justice Alliance, and the Donte Wylie Foundation.
The mothers were joined by members of CeaseFirePA, Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, and City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier. Rhynhart said she was concerned that the city has not responded to her requests for evidence that its Group Violence Intervention and Community Crisis Intervention Program are reducing gun violence.
“We’ve had almost 1,100 people shot in our city this year. To me, something is not working. I would want to see them prove that it is working, or what are they doing, or what needs a course correction,” Rhynhart said.
Victoria Wylie, whose brother Donte was murdered in 2008, applauded the city’s recent creation of an Office of Victim Advocate, but said more is needed. “The psychological, physical, emotional, mental, financial burden that gun violence causes will not be fixed by a stand-alone service,” she said. “Victimization has no expiration date, and neither should the services and resources” provided to survivors.
The Mother’s Movement group called on Mayor Jim Kenney to declare a gun violence emergency in the city, as City Council unanimously endorsed, but he has resisted. The mayor has said such a declaration would have little effect on curbing the crisis and that the benefits supporters say it might bring — unlocking resources, better governmental coordination and drawing attention to the problem — are already happening in Philadelphia.
“A disaster or emergency declaration would have no discernible impact on strengthening what is already a highly collaborative and innovative approach to addressing this public health crisis,” the mayor’s spokesperson Kevin Lessard said Thursday.
Johnson-Harrell said she believes Kenney’s reticence is rooted in a desire to protect the city’s tourism industry.
She pointed to the mass shooting on South Street earlier this month that killed three and injured 11. That incident, in one of the city’s popular tourist spots, drew prompt response from law enforcement and visits to the neighborhood by the mayor and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw.
“I think the city puts dollars over Black and brown communities every day. Look at the response that South Street got,” Johnson-Harrell said. Violence in other communities, she said, has not drawn the same attention.
The 562 homicides in Philadelphia last year were the most in the city’s history, while the 246 slayings so far this year are close to the number the city saw at the same time last year, according to data from the Philadelphia Police Department.
As it seeks ways to curb violence, the Mother’s Movement asked city officials to enforce a 10 p.m. curfew for those under the age of 18, a measure City Council approved Thursday.
The group also asked that recreation centers in communities with high rates of gun violence be open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and be provided with police protection and trained violence prevention counselors.
The women urged that any unspent violence prevention money from last year’s city budget be channeled to community-based organizations with proven track records of success. And they asked the city to provide more funding to violence interrupter programs.
Lessard said the city has already been working with local and national partners, including the Department of Justice, in an effort to make the city safer without deepening the historical impact of systemically racist policies such as over-policing and mass incarceration.
“The budget we’ve agreed to with City Council, which was adopted Thursday, dedicates more than $200 million to anti-violence efforts, as we’re investing in what we know to be proven practices to get at the long- and short-term issues,” Lessard said.
Some of that funding will go to the city’s Anti-Violence Community Expansion Grant Program, which funds and supports community-based organizations that are focused on reducing violence through trauma-informed healing, restorative practices, safe havens and mentorship, he said.
“We are also advocating to the public and in the courts about the state’s dereliction of duty and the gun lobby’s role in fueling the deaths in our city,” Lessard said.
Johnson-Harrell said the Mother’s Movement wants to be an ally of the city in working to combat violence.
“We’re going to try to work with them,” she said. “...These are our children dying every day. We need collaboration and coordination.”
The Mother’s Movement will also focus on community engagement, including urging people to help law enforcement solve crimes in their communities, Johnson-Harrell said. “Our communities don’t know the difference between snitching and telling,” she said.
“If you’re involved in a crime and you’re a co-conspirator and you say something, that’s snitching. But if you see shooters in your community that are harming your community and killing our children, that’s telling,” she said. “We need to be responsible for our communities.”
Councilmember Gauthier, who represents parts of West Philadelphia and University City and has previously asked the mayor to declare a gun violence emergency, said she supports the Mother’s Movement agenda.
“Under the direction of the mayor, all city agencies should be meeting daily to discuss the work that is happening, understand what is working and communicating that work regularly to the public,” she said.
“This is what an emergency approach could look like. I hope that hearing the cry of these strong, passionate women will inspire our city to prioritize gun violence as the city emergency that it is.”