Standing near a South Philadelphia basketball court where a 14-year-old boy was shot six months ago, seven members of City Council on Tuesday said Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed budget doesn’t sufficiently fund gun-violence prevention and backed a plan to pour $50 million into programs for children and teens.
The group, led by at-large Councilmember Helen Gym and Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, chair of the Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention, said the administration should invest $100 million of the nearly $5 billion budget in gun-violence prevention, asking for at least half of that to come from federal stimulus dollars allocated to the city.
Gym said $50 million could guarantee job placement for young people who live in the 10 zip codes most affected by gun violence and expand trauma and therapeutic services. Her proposal would also place more social workers in the 25 schools that enroll about half of the hundreds of young people who have been shot since January 2020, and extend hours at some recreation centers until midnight.
“We’ll never know how many lives we saved when we give young people something to do,” Councilmember Isaiah Thomas said. “We have no choice but to do what we’re doing right now and demand this drop in the bucket, this bare minimum, go to our children here in the city of Philadelphia.”
Council must approve the budget by the end of June, and negotiations are ongoing while gun violence continues. So far in 2021, 215 people have been killed, a 40% increase over last year, which was one of the deadliest years on record. Of the homicide victims this year, 24 were under age 18, triple the number of children killed compared with the same time last year.
The administration and much of Council say gun violence is among the most pressing issues, and that long-term prevention requires investing in neighborhoods most affected. But they don’t all agree on how.
Council President Darrell L. Clarke and eight other members, some of whom backed Gym on Tuesday, laid out a violence-prevention plan in April before the mayor made his budget proposal. It outlined initiatives like jobs programs and “curfew centers” designed to keep young people off the street at night. It also focused on getting guns off the streets, including through buyback programs.
Kenney announced when he unveiled his spending plan in April that the administration would propose new funding in neighborhoods that have long experienced disinvestment of schools and commercial corridors. It included $5 million to beef up programs that target those at risk of participating in or being victimized by gun violence, $1.3 million to address vacant lots, and an expansion of grants.
The Kenney administration hasn’t closely reviewed the councilmembers’ new proposal yet, spokesperson Deana Gamble said, noting that the administration has already proposed expanding after-school activities and some job training opportunities. She said it’s also working to better deploy counseling to victims of violence citywide.
A news conference unveiling the plan was attended both by legislative leaders, including Councilmember Mark Squilla, and members of Council’s progressive wing. There were also representatives from the school board, principals, and community organizations.
“It is not about who has the best plan,” said the Rev. Robert Collier, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia. “It’s about saving lives and doing things differently to get different results.”
Some supporters framed the issue as one of racial justice, calling on those who have taken part in protests over the last year to also press for better funding of programs that support Black and Latino children.
“Everybody wanna be woke, and everybody wanna be ‘Black Lives Matter,’” Johnson said. “But we want you to join this movement when it comes to fighting for our young people.”
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