Whether it’s on the streets, in a church, a shopping mall, or a school, gun violence is ripping out the heart and soul of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. This year, more than a dozen people, including a 13-year-old, were shot within hours of each other, ending in three deaths. A 9-year-old was also killed recently while playing with an unsecured handgun. These are only a few of the hundreds of children who have been victims of gun violence during the past year.
In Philadelphia alone, the sharp increase in gun violence prompted City Council to request that the mayor issue a state of emergency. Nearly 500 people were killed by homicides, most from guns, in the city last year, a 40% increase compared with 2019. In the first 40 days of this year, the city has seen more than 60 homicides, most gun-related murders.
Gun violence disproportionately impacts Black communities. Black men are 6% of the country’s population but account for more than 50% of homicide victims.
At the end of each day in America, we are experiencing mass murder in slow motion from the collective daily death tally of Philadelphia and other cities and communities nationwide.
Reducing gun violence for all people should be our goal — and our collective responsibility. The question is, what are we going to do about it?
One step we can take right now is passing the SAVE Students Act that will be considered this year by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. This measure would require that every middle and high school student in the state receives violence prevention training that includes knowing the warning signs of someone at risk of harming themselves or others and when and how to reach out for help.
Not only will programs like these help to reduce gun violence in our schools and on our streets, they will also help to reduce the growing epidemic of suicides in our state. Suicides have increased by more than 50% in the past decade alone and are increasing among Black youth faster than any other racial group. And experts fear those numbers will only increase given the social isolation and increased depression many are experiencing due to the pandemic.
We don’t have to do this alone. Organizations like Cities United, which I founded, and Sandy Hook Promise, of which I am a board member, help Black communities advocate for violence prevention. These programs prove that gun violence is not inevitable, but preventable.
By becoming “upstanders” instead of bystanders, we can all make our communities safer.
We need to encourage the adoption of these programs — or others like them — in schools and other community-based organizations, particularly in areas hit hardest by the violence. Legislation like the SAVE Students Act can help ensure that all of our students, regardless of the color of their skin or their socioeconomic status, will get these vital and lifesaving tools.
Only by working together can we create solutions to address the mass murder plaguing this nation.
It’s time for everyone to stand up and say enough is enough. I urge everyone to call or write their state representative and ask them to support the SAVE Students Act. Too many children are dying on the streets of our cities. It’s time that we stand up and put an end to the violence.
Michael Nutter was the 98th mayor of Philadelphia. He is the founder of Cities United and a board member of the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation.