WASHINGTON - With the National Press Club as their bully pulpit, Mayor Nutter and New Orleans Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu used the occasion Thursday to bring a national focus on the epidemic of urban violence.
Their joint, nearly hour-long address pulled at heartstrings, put murder statistics into graphic perspectives to challenge the federal government, churches, and nonprofits to invest more to stop the thousands of murders that plague America each year.
"Where is our 'red line' on violence in America?" Nutter asked fellow mayors and their staff, reporters and C-SPAN's audience. "Ten thousand murdered Americans every year - that's a crime against humanity. We have a civil war unfolding in our cities every day, every week, every month."
Both argued that urban violence is not discussed enough at the national level, calling it "eerily quiet."
By citing drastic statistics in front of a national TV audience, they hoped to rally support from the public and Congress for more financial support for crime prevention and crime-fighting efforts.
"When the American public truly understands what's going on in the streets of America, I think you will change hearts and minds and see some folks on the Hill get a little more courage to do something with this particular issue," Nutter said.
The two mayors were in town for the Justice Department's National Summit on Preventing Youth Violence, which brought the leaders of the 10 cities and some federal agencies, including the Departments of Justice, Education, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services together for two days to exchange ideas on fighting youth violence.
Nutter presented Philadelphia's plan to prevent youth violence over the next two years in the persistently dangerous 22d Police District. If the plan succeeds in decreasing homicides and shootings among those 24 and younger by 25 percent, Nutter will "spread those plans and successes into the other districts," he said in an interview.
Landrieu quoted statistics from the Governmental Accountability Office that show that, between 2009 and 2011, the federal government spent nearly $14 billion on hiring, training, and equipping police departments in other parts of the world.
"We need to redirect federal resources back to the home front," Landrieu said.
During a Q&A following their speech, Nutter added:
"We can't just take care of the rest of the world without taking care of ourselves first."
Each mayor had personal stories of meeting victims of violence. They also used plenty of statistics to drive home their point.
"Every day, from before dawn to the stroke of midnight, on average 40 more of our fellow citizens will be lost, 40 more killed in the neighborhoods of America," Landrieu said, adding that since 1980, more Americans have been killed in urban streets than in all wars since World War I combined.
"So, Mayor Nutter and I come to you today as generals during wartime," Landrieu said. "We are telling Congress, we need a surge on the streets of America."
Nutter and Landrieu are leaders of Cities United, a coalition of mayors working to reduce violent deaths among African Americans.
Nutter said that with enough resources, black-on-black violence can be stopped. He pointed to Philadelphia's current murder rate being 30 percent lower than at the same time last year. Last year, 331 people were killed in Philadelphia, and 193 in New Orleans.
"Our progress is promising, but is really a drop in the bucket against a tidal wave of trouble," Nutter said.
New Jersey's poorest city, Camden, was also represented at the summit. Mayor Dana L. Redd presented her youth violence-reduction plan which includes teaching schoolchildren to deal with aggressive behavior, getting dropouts back into school, providing after-school activities and summer job programs and improving policing.
One program, for example, will connect mentors with young people who have a parent in jail. Others would help teen parents with child care and counseling and provide services for runaways and homeless children.