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How Philadelphia’s gun violence goes unchecked | Morning Newsletter

And, the county that stands apart on COVID-19.

Good morning.

First: Gun violence in Philadelphia has spiked to heights not seen in a generation, and our latest investigation shows how the city’s Police Department has failed to meet this menace.

Then: Bucks County has gone its own way when it comes to in-person schools and COVID-19 case numbers. People stopped getting the latest numbers a full month ago. Why? The answer may lead to one director who has stood out for his approach to the pandemic.

And: Pennsylvania officials have been weighing a new ban on indoor dining and the mandatory closures of gyms and casinos, we learned. A decision on this is likely to come within days.

— Ashley Hoffman (@_ashleyhoffman,

We analyzed every shooting in Philadelphia since 2015 to get to the heart of a chronic system slowly collapsing. In our interviews, victims, family, police, and community advocates described how law enforcement is just not performing its job at the most fundamental level: securing justice when people get shot.

As many as 8,500 people have been shot in Philadelphia since 2015. Shooters have been charged and convicted just 9% of the time. For this project, police, advocates, and families described a criminal community more emboldened than ever before. Attempts to refocus efforts toward this problem don’t seem to have offered much hope. Some have seen aspiring killers show they just don’t fear repercussions for shooting someone. And a culture of silence makes investigating difficult.

This year’s frenetic pace of gun violence means the number of people getting away with committing it is much larger than years past — and it’s only growing. Our investigation into this issue revealed some startling extremes. Keep reading for those.

If you live in Pennsylvania, chances are you can easily get all the latest numbers and info on the coronavirus in your community. Not Bucks County, though.

The Health Department stopped supplying those figures a full month ago, citing the surge in cases. The county is far from the only place to recognize that contact tracing can be a game of Whac-A-Mole. But when it comes to playing it safe, Bucks County’s approach to public safety under the Health Department’s controversial director, David Damsker, stands out.

Over the course of the pandemic, he’s sometimes been at odds with experts. While six feet apart is the order of the day, he’s recommended three, and he’s doubled down on keeping schools open when others have advised virtual instruction.

Here’s how he’s been guiding the county and drawing his fair share of detractors in the process.

Helpful COVID-19 resources

  1. Are you seeing people again after having COVID-19? Read our checklist first.

  2. Can you travel this winter? Should you? Is it safe to travel? By plane? By car?

  3. What are the first symptoms of the coronavirus and what are the differences in COVID-19, the flu, a common cold, and allergies?

  4. Everything you need to know about buying, washing, replacing, and wearing face masks.

  5. Track the spread of COVID-19 infections in the region.

  6. Sign up to get free coronavirus news updates in your inbox three times a week.

What you need to know today

  1. Pennsylvania officials have been weighing a new ban on indoor dining and the mandatory closures of gyms and casinos with a decision likely to come within days, we have learned.

  2. Sen. Bob Casey cited the shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. in pushing two proposed bills to divert 911 calls for mental health crises toward social service providers.

  3. Supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981, marked the 39th anniversary of his arrest by calling for his release from prison yesterday, saying he was innocent.

  4. We had a little snow yesterday. Light snow? A snow shower? If you’re a snow lover latching on to any flake you can right now, these are the two words to get excited about: coating reported.

  5. SEPTA’s going to indefinitely shut down overnight service of the trolley tunnel starting soon, pointing to the precious few riders early in the morning during this pandemic.

  6. The U.S. government and 46 states are suing Facebook to force the split of Instagram and WhatsApp.

  7. President Donald Trump and 17 states joined Texas’ effort to persuade the Supreme Court to void the vote in Pennsylvania and three other battleground states. The string of losses for Trump and his allies keeps going.

  8. The Lower Merion School District is shifting high schools to virtual instruction next week citing operational issues as students and staff weren’t showing up in person.

Through your eyes | #OurPhilly

Not only did it snow, we have the receipts. Props to @walking_philly for snapping yesterday’s snow shower in action.

Tag your Instagram posts or tweets with #OurPhilly and we’ll pick our favorite each day to feature in this newsletter and give you a shout-out!

That’s interesting

  1. 🍪 You’ve probably messed with a jelly-filled Linzer cookie, but what about a corn linzer cookie? That and a recipe for a tutti frutti time are some of 5 delicious holiday cookie recipes on this appetizing list.

  2. 🦅 Jason Kelce is not one to hide his feelings or his glorious hats. And he has a message to deliver about all the Carson Wentz finger-pointing.

  3. 🌈 For just the second time in history, the Pantone Color Institute named two colors of the year: a calming gray and buttery yellow. If you were planning on riding out 2021 in gray sweatpants, you’re already halfway there. Spill some butter on them, and you’re ready. Here’s why they needed both shades for this moment.

  4. 🎶 A little-known design from one of the greatest architects of his time could become a music barge on the Delaware River waterfront for concerts.

  5. 🕎 Do you want to peel potatoes and get greasy with homemade schmaltz tonight? Or you could put your feet up on Hanukkah, Christmas Day, the Feast of the Seven Fishes, and New Year’s Eve. Leave the latkes and the beef wellington to these restaurants offering takeout deals and packages all season long.


“The cracks that gun violence victims usually fall through have been made wider this year by a pandemic that disproportionately kills Blacks and Latinos, despite a national reckoning on racial justice that has put the spotlight on inequality in America. It’s hard not to wonder the difference that reckoning might have made had it come earlier for those who lost their lives under the same systemic racism.” — columnist Helen Ubiñas writes that if you’ve lost someone to the epidemic of gun violence, she’s accepting reader submissions of remembrances or photographs of loved ones for our package that will honor them.

  1. Khalif Ali, the executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, writes that Pennsylvanians’ votes must be reflected in the final Electoral College vote next week despite the failed attempts to usurp democracy.

  2. What does your dog think of your relationship right now? Dog trainer Marisa Scully writes that the current conversation around getting “pandemic pups” to help us through this isolating time could be totally missing the point of having dogs.

What we’re reading

  1. Hanukkah starts tonight and USA Today takes a scholarly look at all the many spellings of Hanukkah. No, Hanukka. OK, or is it Chanukah?

  2. Billy Penn has the story on how the Eagles are donating $460,000 in grants to local nonprofits with a social justice bent.

  3. Philly Mag spotlights fitness trainers who are really moving the needle when it comes to making wellness accessible for as many people as possible.

Your Daily Dose of | Sparkle

No one needs magic more than we do right now.

And checking out the festive holiday lights near you can be something to do safely. Tom Gralish has captured 800 Kimball Street, which underwent a transformation as residents started amusing passerby along their block with elaborate over-the-top inflatable characters. Expect some kitschy pieces in the mix. Look! There’s a gigantic Rudolph, Frosty, and the Grinch. Usual suspects. But here! We also spotted a unicorn, and Hello Kitty. Get ready to be dazzled.

What’s your favorite spectacular spot to see people go all out with holiday decorations this time of year?