Nineteen shootings, 28 victims, five dead. That is a dispatch, not from a war-torn country, but from Father’s Day weekend in Philadelphia. The battlefields where these shootings occurred were a playground, a deli, and the streets of Philadelphia. From Tacony to East Germantown to the Southwest, the two days of violence spanned the entire city. Some of the victims were only 15-and 16-years-old, shot at graduation party that turned into the scene of a mass shooting. Others were older, like 68-year-old Marlita Ann Smith who was shot and killed outside of her home in Olney. Almost all the victims were black.
Every year, during the summer months, violence increases. If this past weekend is any indication, Philadelphia is heading for a long, hot, and bloody summer. The city has already experienced 152 homicides this year — a 13 percent increase from last year to this date.
If past is prologue, we already know what is going to follow next: nothing.
Pennsylvania’s state legislature will not pass any meaningful gun control measures, which doesn’t only mean that Philadelphians are at higher risk for gun violence but so are our neighbors across the Delaware because guns can travel. Camden has already seen a doubling in homicides this year compared to this point last year.
Meanwhile, in other major cities all over the country, homicide rates are declining. According to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, homicide rates decreased by 8 percent in the 30 largest cities in 2018 compared to 2017. In Philadelphia, it increased by almost 9 percent — and the upward trend continues into this year.
In January, Mayor Jim Kenney revealed the Roadmap to Safer Communities, a five-year plan to address violence. According to the Office of Violence Prevention, which created the road map, change will take time.
But this is an emergency, and we don’t have time or patience — neither do the families devastated by violence.
Homicide prevention is difficult, but possible. According to Bleeding Out, a forthcoming book by Thomas Abt, Harvard University research fellow, a concentrated and comprehensive plan that focuses on the people, places, and behaviors that drive homicides in the city can reduce homicides by 10 percent a year — and cut it by half in eight years. Abt claims that requires a dedicated investment of about $30,000 per homicide per year. He draws on studies of successful attempts from cities around the world.
Abt’s research shows strategies that can have measurable impacts. It’s telling that the city’s Roadmap does not include a concrete goal for how many homicides will be reduced — and over what period of time.