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Ride calls attention to Philadelphia violence

Liana Sanchez.

Liana Sanchez.

William Parker.

Travis James Stone Jr.

Those were just three of the names, read by antiviolence activists Thursday night, of people killed on Philadelphia streets in 2011.

The occasion: a motorcade through five neighborhoods to draw attention to the 324 homicides the city has endured this year.

"It's a pain that you never get over," said Dorothy Johnson-Speight, who founded Mothers in Charge, the antiviolence group that organized the event.

Johnson-Speight's son was 24 when he was fatally shot a decade ago, and she told a crowd gathered in front of the Leon H. Sullivan Human Resources Center on North Broad Street that "we can't bring back our children. We're hoping to save yours."

"Do something to save a life," she pleaded.

Bernetta Berger echoed the cry for more attention to be paid to violence in poor neighborhoods.

She said that she was "just one of the hundreds" of mothers who had lost a child to violence - in her case, a son who was shot more than 14 times in April 2010.

Touching on a theme that would be echoed by other mothers, she called for parents to restore "order" in their homes.

Police provided escort for Mothers in Charge and other groups that joined them, including Men United for a Better Philadelphia, as they traveled from North Philadelphia to four spots around the city that had been the site of homicides.

Activists passed out antiviolence T-shirts to residents, sang hymns, and prayed.

"I'm here in full support," Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey told them, saying the city's homicide tally - up from 304 in 2010 - is "not going to change on its own."

The event took on a sharp political edge at the motorcade's first stop, at 31st and Tasker Streets, a few blocks from where a 2-year-old girl was shot in the stomach several months ago.

Jordan Harris, former executive director of the city's Youth Commission, called politicians who have attacked public education "thugs," holding them responsible for the violence in the city's poorest neighborhoods.

"The blood of our young people . . . is just as important" as that of anyone else, he said, calling on government officials to direct increased services to struggling communities.

In addition to North Philadelphia and Grays Ferry, the motorcade was scheduled to stop in Germantown, Brewerytown, and West Philadelphia.