At the first progress report Tuesday on Mayor Jim Kenney’s new antiviolence campaign, community leaders voiced concerns that the new “road map” to help curb the growing gun-violence issue in the city is still not enough.
The first of the quarterly progress report meetings, promised as part of the Philadelphia Roadmap to Safer Communities, brought more than 20 leaders to a rectangular table at the Municipal Services Building. Kenney was joined by Police Commissioner Richard Ross, School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., and several community organizers.
The discussion arose from a review of the first three months of the five-year, comprehensive action plan. Kenney laid the plan out in January, focusing on stamping out the “underlying factors” that he said help fuel the ongoing crisis of gun violence. He allocated more than $31 million to the effort.
Kenney’s vision, developed toward the end of 2018, was to blend policing tactics, public health programs, and efforts to address issues including school truancy, poverty, and blight in an attempt to stunt the epidemic’s growth.
Among the initiatives city officials announced Tuesday were extended-jobs programs and expanded community outreach to raise awareness of GED and educational programs. But community leaders at the table told officials that more funding is needed for the people who are trying to make the antiviolence programs work.
“We’re a small, grassroots organization," said Dawan Williams, a former Graterford Prison inmate who now works with the Fathers and Children Together (FACT) program after it helped him facilitate a reunion with his son. “We’re just a group of guys who in prison said that when we get out, enough is enough.”
“We just want to save these kids. And these kids trust us,” he added. "They believe in us. But we don’t have our own pocket of money to back up the money that was promised to us.”
Theron Pride, senior director of violence prevention strategies and programs, said officials are looking into how they can support local programs that do this type of work, including vetting potential grant programs.
“But on the grant side, there is always a question of, ‘Is it reimbursable?‘ 'Is it sustainable?’ ‘Is it a grant?’" he said. “And, will it help our program achieve what it’s trying to do? It’s going to take time."
Kenney agreed with Williams, saying it isn’t fair that the grassroots organizers, many of whom are carrying out Kenney’s plan, are “spending their own money.”
“If we want to be successful between now and summer, we can’t be bureaucrats,” he said. “I know there are rules and regulations and procedures, I understand that, but they’re on the ground.”
Pride will be tasked with offering solutions at the next quarterly meeting.
Kenney requested in September that the plan be developed after calling the city’s rising gun violence trend a public health crisis. While the city’s overall violent crime tally — which counts homicides, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults — has declined for three consecutive years, the annual homicide total has been on the upswing since 2014, when the city recorded 248 killings, according to police statistics.
Last year, the city recorded a decade-high number of homicides, 351, and more than 1,400 people were shot.
So far in 2019, homicides are up 13 percent from the same time last year.
The report said that shootings and homicides tend to be clustered in the poorest neighborhoods, and that about 75 percent of shooting victims and known offenders are black men, most between the ages of 16 and 34. As a result, many initiatives included in the report are designed to target that population.