Mayor Jim Kenney on Wednesday defended his decision not to declare a state of emergency over the city’s gun violence crisis, saying such a move “could have an unintended consequence and cause more fear in our communities, especially communities of color.”
“We know residents are afraid. Afraid to attend cookouts or go to basketball courts, afraid to let their kids play outside,” he said during a virtual news conference just an hour after three teenagers were shot, two fatally, in West Philadelphia. “I hear you, and it truly breaks my heart. It truly does.”
Kenney wrote in a letter to City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier on Tuesday that — despite a unanimous resolution by City Council last year and ongoing calls from gun violence prevention advocates — declaring a state of emergency would not “demonstrably change conditions in Philadelphia.”
In response, Gauthier, whose West Philadelphia district has experienced an unprecedented level of gun violence, said Kenney’s decision was “an abdication of responsibility.” In a statement Tuesday, she emphasized that Black communities were most affected by gun violence, saying “if this level of violence were happening in white neighborhoods, I am certain Mayor Kenney would move hell and high water to bring it to an end as quickly as possible.”
“The idea of our city using ‘Black Lives Matter’ as a slogan, but not treating our gun violence crisis as a priority, turns this powerful statement into a farce,” she said.
Kenney said Wednesday the allegation his response would be different if the gun violence was concentrated in white neighborhoods is “simply untrue, unfair and deeply offensive.”
More than 10,000 people have been shot in the city since 2015, when police began routinely publishing data on every shooting online, and three-quarters of those victims were Black men. Nearly 94% of all victims were Black or brown.
The pace of those shootings has gradually ticked up in recent years, exploding last summer and continuing this year. More than 300 people have been killed this year, and the mayor’s decision came during a particularly violent stretch — police said Wednesday that 74 people were shot in the week between July 12 and 18.
Kenney said his administration believes it’s dealing with “a health crisis of epic proportions” and said there is “no greater priority than reducing violence and saving lives.” But he said he believes the benefits of declaring a state of emergency — including unlocking new resources and allowing for better inter-agency coordination — are already happening.
“Certainly it’s frustrating it’s not working as well as we’d like,” he said. “I don’t think labeling it anything is going to change what we’ve been doing to make it go away.”
Moments after the news conference ended, Gauthier announced she and other elected officials, including Controller Rebecca Rhynhart and District Attorney Larry Krasner, will convene Thursday to publicly “demand more targeted action from the Kenney administration to address Philadelphia’s unrelenting gun violence crisis.”