Stanley Crawford was already frustrated by the seemingly endless Zoom meetings and press conferences about Philadelphia’s record-high gun violence by the time he got to Happy Hollow Recreation Center this week.
City officials had gathered a crowd on Thursday to announce that Philly was suing Pennsylvania so it can enact its own stronger gun safety laws to try and curb the gun-violence epidemic.
This was unsuccessfully tried before, but the most recent lawsuit is in the name of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh residents directly impacted. That includes Crawford, Tamika Morales, and several other loved ones of gun violence victims that I’ve written about over the years.
Crawford’s 35-year-old son, William, was gunned down on a September morning in 2018 on his older sister’s doorstep. When I met the father months later, he told me he had three choices: give up, give in to his anger, or do something. He created Black Male Community Council of Philadelphia, a group of Black men who clean up neighborhoods affected by gun violence. And then, in March, he founded the Families of Unsolved Murders Project to bring attention to the city’s high unsolved murder rate.
Morales' son was one of 19 people shot, nine fatally, during this year’s July Fourth weekend.
I included her son in a column where I listed the names of people we’d so far lost to gun violence this year — 196 at the time, now upwards of 330. When Morales and I spoke, she wanted me to know that above all, her 24-year-old son Ahmad was kind.
But she also wanted me to know that she would not rest until whoever killed him as he walked to a South Philadelphia corner store was brought to justice.
At the press conference, she was clear: “Something needs to be done, and I’m tired of saying that.”
That this grieving mother was standing in front of a crowd and talking about her pain when her loss was so fresh should put an end to the narrative — used by public officials to justify their own ineffectiveness — that the community isn’t doing its part.
When we talked after the press conference, Morales and Crawford conceded that the lawsuit was a longshot.
But, Morales said: “What if it does work? That’s what I think: What if it ends up working and I wasn’t part of it?”
Whatever happens, Crawford said, any attention to the city’s relentless violence helps. And the lawsuit strikes him as more promising than Zoom meetings and hearings and, lately, dueling press conferences.
“There’s negligence all the way around, and the elephant [in the room] is the divisiveness in city government,” he said. “People are being murdered while [public officials] are in their silos and in personal conflict with each other. And we, the public, are paying for them being at odds.”
On Tuesday, a day after six people were killed, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and District Attorney Larry Krasner held separate press conferences as the city’s gun violence surpassed its highest number in more than a decade.
Outlaw called the violence shameful and sickening, though when she was asked what has driven the recent violence, she responded: “We don’t know, quite frankly.”
Krasner offered a message for those who have lost loved ones to gun violence: “We hear you. We care about you.”
But that’s news to many families who have felt neither seen nor heard by his office.
I share Crawford’s frustration with the endless dog and pony shows, and the ongoing lack of direction that might make a difference — right now — in the lives of so many Philadelphians living under siege. Hours after Thursday’s gathering, a mass shooting on Frankford Avenue left a 29-year-year-old man dead and six others injured.
So, I perked up when Outlaw mentioned that the department has “refocused [its] efforts” to get better technology for detectives, including department-issued cellphones.
One of the most consistent complaints from families is not being able to reach detectives who still use those pink “While You Were Out” pads to take down messages.
Cell phones aren’t a cure-all, but it would at least be one tangible thing that could potentially lead to better communication and maybe even tips to start solving more murders.
I wanted specifics. When would the detectives get these cell phones?
After pressing the department in multiple emails, the answer was as unsatisfying as all the performative press conferences.
"In the future.”