A teenager shot and killed on a rec center basketball court. An 11-year-old shot and killed while riding his bike. A filmmaker shot and killed while making a video about Philadelphia’s gun violence crisis.
These are just three of the nearly 650 shootings that have taken place across our city so far this year. Philadelphia’s gun violence rates had been on the rise since 2015, and the challenges presented by COVID-19 only exacerbated that trend in 2020. This year, with people out of work, out of school, and struggling, our city may experience the highest number of homicides of any year going back to at least 1960.
There is no more urgent priority than addressing this violence — both for people living in the neighborhoods where it is prevalent, and for the health of our city. Having to be hyper-vigilant every time you leave home, feeling afraid to let your kids play outside — this is trauma, and it breeds more violence. No one should have to live like this.
Both from research and experience, we know how to solve, or at least mitigate, the gun violence epidemic spreading through our city. The question now is whether we will do it.
For once, we actually have the money. At $1.9 trillion, the American Rescue plan is among the largest stimulus packages in U.S. history. Philadelphia is set to receive $1.4 billion of that over the next two years — a historic investment — and we have flexibility to use it to stop the violence.
In his Fiscal Year 2022 (FY 2022) Operating Budget address last month, Mayor Jim Kenney proposed significant increases in funding for anti-violence efforts. We commend Mayor Kenney for his investment, but this is a start. We urge the mayor to go much further to stem the tide of violence in our neighborhoods.
The End Gun Violence Coalition, which includes more than 40 organizations throughout Philadelphia, is calling for a $100 million investment by city government in violence prevention efforts, and we support that call.
There are several investments that could make a major difference in our neighborhoods:
Direct more funding toward street outreach. The city’s Community Crisis Intervention Program sends credible messengers — people who have themselves experienced and witnessed violence — into communities to provide counseling, job training, and mentoring to those most at risk of succumbing to or causing shootings. We should expand our investment in this program beyond Mayor Kenney’s proposal.
Invest in the Cure Violence approach, which uses methods associated with disease control, like interrupting conflicts and treating the highest-risk individuals, to stop the spread of gun violence. During a two-year period when this program received federal funding, Cure Violence reduced the homicide rate in North Philadelphia by 30%. We believe the Cure Violence approach should be implemented citywide.
Increase funding for grassroots violence prevention efforts beyond Mayor Kenney’s suggested $2.5 million allocation. According to a study in the American Sociological Review, increasing the capacity of just 10 nonprofit organizations focused on public health solutions to violence can lead to a 9% reduction in murders and a 6% reduction in violent crime.
Expand the Parks and Recreation budget above FY 2020 levels so that we can reopen rec centers and provide youth programming in hot-spot areas that need it most.
Increase access to trauma-informed services that support people experiencing high levels of trauma, which often leads to more violence in the future. Violence causes trauma, and if left untreated, it often causes more violence. As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.”
What we cannot do is spend more of our money on punishment rather than prevention. Studies show that enforcement does not prevent crime, yet that is where we have always put our money: Philadelphia spends over $1 billion annually among the Police Department, the courts, and our prisons. Although the mayor’s budget proposes nearly doubling the allocation for our violence prevention work — which will land us at approximately $34 million — it is still vastly below the need. We need targeted use of proven interventions to stop gun violence now in our most violence-plagued neighborhoods.
Our approach should be to make significant investments in prevention in a way that helps us rebuild as a city for years to come. Because if we can’t keep our citizens alive, what are we doing?
Jamie Gauthier represents the Third District in City Council and is a member of the Public Safety Committee. Kenyatta Johnson represents the Second District. He is also the chairman of the Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention and vice chair of the Public Safety Committee.