When it comes to gun violence in Philadelphia, it’s long been clear that warm weather can have serious consequences.
A 2018 New York Times analysis found that days when the temperature exceeds 50 degrees have nearly 70% more shooting victims in our city than days when the weather is 49 or below. A similar trend, the Times found, plays out in other cities that also experience seasonal weather changes.
It should hardly have come as a surprise, then, that an unexpected stretch of sunny April weather during the holiday weekend also saw the number of incidents of gun violence tick up dramatically in the city. During a 24-hour stretch from Thursday to Friday, the city averaged a shooting an hour, and of the two dozen people who were shot, five were killed. All told, from Thursday to Sunday, the city saw a total of 50 shootings. During that four-day stretch, the high temperature in the city did not dip below 52 degrees.
As summer approaches, and with Philadelphia once again on pace to record more than 500 homicides this year, it is imperative that the city act now to forestall the possibility of bloodshed during the warmer weather to come.
City officials say they are prepared and point to a range of recreational and educational options for the city’s young people. Opening public swimming pools this summer, often a safe haven (though not a perfect one) for children and families, has been a point of emphasis for city officials. In 2021, the city failed to open 22 of its roughly 70 outdoor pools because of lifeguard shortages; poorer neighborhoods were hit particularly hard. Officials with the Department of Parks and Recreation began their search for lifeguards earlier in the year while offering more incentives for prospective lifeguards, including better pay and more extensive training.
The School District is offering in-person educational programming for all students over the summer. The city also has a roster of summer programs. While these steps are welcome, they are unlikely to meet the challenge of stemming gun violence on their own. Especially when the demand for spots outstrips available openings.
While restoring programs and reopening pools are important steps for cooling tensions, the stakes and the scale of this crisis demand the same kind of bold intervention that we’ve seen from Mayor Jim Kenney on COVID-19. That means finding more ways to fight gun violence, not telling residents and colleagues that you’ve done all you can.
If the city is once again unable to open all of its pools, then avoid hitting poorer neighborhoods with most of the closures. If library hours and programs cannot be fully staffed, find ways to support branches in our most vulnerable communities. If trash collection once again falls behind, prioritize neighborhoods where residents have smaller homes and fewer cars, leaving them without options to store and transport their waste. Hold the Police Department accountable, track and transparently evaluate anti-violence programs, and ensure the implementation of recommendations from the “100 Shooting Review.” Integrate violence prevention into everything the city does, as this board called for at the outset of the year.
Given the level of gun violence in our city, we can’t afford more of the same. This summer has to be different. Otherwise, what we all witnessed during this long, blood-soaked weekend will continue.