Dozens of faith leaders and supporters marched along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Thursday, waving T-shirts bearing names of some of the more than 500 homicide victims in Philadelphia last year and calling on local leaders to “do more” to stem the city’s sustained surge in gun violence.
The event — dubbed “From Sanctuary to Street, From Lament to Action” — was orchestrated for the “faith community to wrap its arms around the conversation on gun violence,” said Bryan Miller, executive director of Heeding God’s Call, a religious group that works to prevent gun violence.
The rally occurred just days after three people were killed and 11 wounded on South Street, and as shootings across the city persist. As of Wednesday, 1,002 people had been shot this year in Philadelphia, leaving 222 dead.
“These are not just numbers, though the sheer number should both numb and terrify us,” Rabbi David Straus said as the names of people shot to death in Philadelphia last year scrolled on a screen behind him. “These are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, spouses, workers, neighbors, co-workers and friends.”
Stepping out from under the majestic stained glass and gilded ceiling of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul following the interfaith service, the faithful flocked to the Parkway, occasionally met by cars honking in support.
They ended at City Hall, with the Rev. Robert Collier, Sr. calling on local officials — from Mayor Jim Kenney to Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw to City Council — to “do more.”
“We are at war with those who seek to kill and destroy, yet the city is saying it has done all that it can do,” said Collier, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia. “Well that’s not acceptable, as that attitude is giving in to the enemy.”
Collier, on behalf of the Black clergy, called on Kenney to allot at least $200 million in the city’s yearly budget to antiviolence initiatives — which Collier said should include the remediation of environmental hazards and air conditioning in schools, and recreation centers.
Speakers also urged the group to contact Pennsylvania lawmakers to enact a limit on gun purchases to one handgun per month, and fund more community programming and resources in neighborhoods where shootings happen most.
“We need to take in fully the fact that just as all people are connected, gun violence is connected to so many other factors,” said Rabbi Linda Holtzman of POWER.
Cherie Ryans didn’t carry a T-shirt with the name of a victim as she quietly marched with the group. Instead, the Southwest Philadelphia mother held close a photograph of her son, Terence Ryans — an aspiring lawyer and first-year Cheyney University student who was fatally shot by an illegally-obtained firearm in 1990 when he was 18.
“Today, I’m carrying my son,” Ryans said softly.
Thursday’s march was one of many Ryans has attended in the decades since Terence’s death. She said she has rallied in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Washington, D.C., “pleading with [lawmakers] to do something about these crazy guns and these gun laws.”
“I’m not asking to give up their firstborn,” Ryans said. “I’m asking them to pay attention to the needs, the wants, the desires of the people, the mothers who have lost their children.”
-Staff artist John Duchneskie contributed to this story.