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More Philly elected officials are criticizing Mayor Jim Kenney for not declaring a gun-violence state of emergency

Frustration over the mayor's response to the crisis has boiled over in recent weeks as shootings and homicides continue on a record-setting pace.

City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (center) and City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart (right) sent Mayor Jim Kenney a letter calling on him to adopt eight strategies for combating gun violence.
City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (center) and City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart (right) sent Mayor Jim Kenney a letter calling on him to adopt eight strategies for combating gun violence.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

Speaking near the site of the recent shooting of a 1-year-old in West Philadelphia, City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier said Thursday that she no longer wanted to debate whether Mayor Jim Kenney should declare a state of emergency over gun violence.

“All this week we’ve been hearing about how the mayor doesn’t want to declare gun violence an emergency. You know what? Fine. Fine. Call it whatever you want,” Gauthier, who first called on Kenney to issue the declaration 10 months ago, said at a news conference at 51st Street and Haverford Avenue. “All I care is that you do more.”

Frustration over the Kenney administration’s response to the crisis has mounted in recent weeks as shootings and homicides continue at a record pace. At Thursday’s event, organized by Gauthier and City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, nine elected officials, some of whom rarely speak combatively about fellow officeholders, took Kenney to task for what they described as a lack of urgency.

“The Kenney administration all but said they think they are doing all that they can,” Rhynhart said. “I can’t accept that. The people of our city cannot accept that.”

As of Wednesday, there have been 310 homicides in Philadelphia this year, a 34% increase over the same date last year. Additionally, more than 1,300 people have been shot, including 210 in July alone.

Some of the speakers acknowledged that much of what’s driving gun violence remains outside of the city’s control, such as Harrisburg’s refusal to allow Philadelphia to regulate the flow of guns into the city, the dismantling of federal antipoverty programs over the last 40 years, and the pandemic-fueled surge in shootings across the country.

But they said Kenney could nonetheless be doing more, and Gauthier and Rhynhart sent the mayor a letter requesting information on the administration’s response, including progress reports on the goals laid out in the mayor’s antiviolence strategy, the Roadmap to Safer Communities, and a timeline for the city to use the $155 million in violence-prevention spending approved in the budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Kenney has said that declaring an emergency would be little more than a symbolic gesture — unlike federal disaster declarations, it would not unlock any additional funding — and that his administration is already working round the clock to fight the surge in shootings and homicides.

“We know residents are afraid — afraid to attend cookouts or go to basketball courts, afraid to let their kids play outside,” he said Wednesday during his weekly virtual news conference on gun violence. “I hear you, and it truly breaks my heart. It truly does.”

Kenney spokesperson Deana Gamble said Thursday that the mayor “looks forward to continuing to work with colleagues on City Council to continue to respond to this crisis.”

“The Mayor is glad to hear the Councilmember is not focused on semantics, and that the recommendations she’s presented are closely aligned to the work the Administration is already undertaking to continue our response to the national public health emergency that gun violence presents,” Gamble said in a statement.

Not everyone who works in gun-violence prevention agrees that declaring an emergency is a good idea. Pastor Carl Day of Culture Changing Christians in North Philadelphia noted that the declaration doesn’t come with additional resources.

“If there’s nothing good actually coming out of it, what are we trying to play on the psyche of our people right now?” asked Day, who serves on several city advisory panels convened by the administration and District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office. “People already see what’s in front of them. So if this is about just trying to gain a political win just by saying our city is in shambles, that makes no sense.”

But with the violence continuing unabated this summer, the number of elected officials willing to publicly criticize the mayor over the city’s violence is growing.

“If everything is being done, then we wouldn’t be seeing five people shot every day,” Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson said. “No amount of effort is enough until our neighbors feel safe.”

Staff writer Anna Orso contributed to this article.