Philadelphia is in the midst of an emergency and everyone knows it. A 1-year-old was shot while shopping with her mom in West Philadelphia. A teenager in North Philadelphia was shot while sitting on her porch, while a man lay nearby bleeding out. Another individual suffered multiple gunshot wounds on a playground in West Philadelphia. That’s just a few injured in the past week.
Over 1,300 people have been shot this year — 316 killed as of Monday. This is the tip of an iceberg of trauma and destruction. Countless more gun battles leave mental and emotional wounds, even when no one is physically harmed. The constant worry parents have for their kids, teenagers have for their friends, and teachers for their students take a deep psychological toll.
While Mayor Jim Kenney may not be willing to declare a state of emergency, it’s clear to anyone living in Philadelphia, and many outside it, that we are already living in one. And whether we name it or not, the city is not moving with the urgency the damage demands.
A month ago, a historic $155 million anti-violence budget deal lifted the hopes of countless advocates, parents, and community leaders. By focusing on programs that would address some of the roots of our public health crisis, we would finally treat the whole patient. Targeted workforce development would provide critical support and provide alternative options for at-risk individuals. Parks and recreation activities would get kids off the streets, taking them out of the line of fire. Youth mentoring programs would teach conflict resolution skills. Street intervention would prevent “beefs” from turning into another obituary.
And maybe most importantly, $20 million would provide resources to cash-strapped community organizations who know exactly what their community needs and where it needs to go. A comprehensive 2016 report by the Urban Institute, Joyce Foundation, and Joint Center for Political Economic Studies found programs from organizations embedded in the community led by trusted leaders have the largest impact on reducing violence — and those results can last for years.
Advocates and leaders hailed the announcement and started to prepare for an influx of resources and actions so we could do everything in our power to ensure this approach would succeed. A month has passed, and as far as the public, and many advocates, can tell, nothing has changed. There have been no community hearings to highlight how programs that are now “anti-violence” will shift from broad-based efforts to targeted approaches for communities hardest hit by violence and turn individuals away from being the next shooter. There are no new announced goals focused on recreational activities that can bring needed opportunities to zip codes where walking down the street is dangerous.
Community organizations that have been squeezing lifesaving actions out of every dollar are still waiting for the infusion of $20 million. Not a dime has flowed to groups working tirelessly to prevent even more violence in our neighborhoods daily. The initial announcement proposed forming a community advisory committee to support the grant process and ensure the money goes where it can have the greatest impact. That committee has yet to form, and no call for community proposals that could already be saving lives has been issued.
It will take time to implement new programs and to turn broad-based approaches into lifesaving violence reduction programs. We can speed that up by tapping into the knowledge, skill, and sweat equity from people across our community. National experts are ready to jump in to show how similar efforts have worked in Baltimore, Milwaukee, Chicago, and San Jose, Calif. And every day the wheels don’t move, the public isn’t asked to engage, and systems aren’t initiated, another life is lost. How many more Black and brown lives must be lost before it’s an emergency? How many more children?
For Philadelphians to thrive, they must be able to live without gun violence. Declaring a state of emergency would bring new attention, support, and focus to that effort. And it must move with haste to deploy historic resources and approaches announced in the budget to address this crisis now. Let’s measure this summer by the number of actions taken, not by the number of lives lost.
Adam Garber is the executive director of CeaseFirePA, a Philadelphia-based organization that strives to create a safer Pennsylvania by ending the epidemic of gun violence. Joel Wilson is the president of 100 Black Men Philadelphia chapter.