At 11:59 p.m. Dec. 12, Talik Monsanto became Philadelphia's 300th homicide victim of 2017.
"He was a good, loving child," says his grieving mother, Atiya Wilson. "He loved his friends. He was outgoing, a people person, affectionate."
Monsanto loved his friends so much that when he heard they were in a fight, he tried to help. For his loyalty, he was shot in the back of the head. No one was around when police found his body face down on the cold sidewalk at American and Westmoreland Streets.
Monsanto was only 21 when he became the 300th homicide victim this year. By midnight Dec. 18, the number had hit 304. This is the highest the city's homicide rate has reached since 2012, and a considerable increase since the city's lowest rate, in 2013, of 238. With fewer than a dozen days left this year, it's likely Philadelphia will have more homicides than New York City, which reports 267 homicides so far this year and has a population of 8.53 million to our 1.56 million.
But there are important differences. Philadelphia is the poorest of the nation's big cities and New York City's so rich, it has 114 cops per square mile. In Philadelphia, it's 41. And our army is out-gunned in a city flooded with illegal weapons that are so easy to get, a criminal can even rent a piece for a quick job. New York, by contrast, has some of the toughest gun laws in the country.
At least 80 percent of the city's homicide victims were killed with guns. Shooters are using guns to settle turf battles in the lucrative drug trade, to extract revenge, to finish arguments, and to kill themselves. At the same time, police started the year about 400 down from the department's roughly 6,500 staffing level. And, the homicide clearance rate — the percentage of cases cleared by arrest or other means — has slipped to its lowest in 15 years.
It's all pretty dismal, but there are signs the city is going into 2018 on firmer footing.
Police Commissioner Richard Ross said the department will be close to full strength early in the year, and he's already making gun-related policy changes. Ross created a gun intelligence bureau, which rapidly investigates shootings with an eye towards figuring out if there will be a retaliation shooting. That task force can also follow the illegal gun trade, stemming the easy access malevolent individuals have to lethal weapons.
To follow up on gun arrests, which number over 1,000 a year, Ross wants a gun court with judges who specialize in gun crimes and punishment. This is an excellent idea that should be funded and up and running as soon as possible.
Monsanto's murder illustrates a problem that smart policing can't solve. His so-called friends, the very crew he died helping, didn't have the courage and decency to wait with his body and give police leads on his killers.
From reluctant witnesses to elected leaders, the entire city has to take on this fight. Leaving it just to the police and emergency room doctors to patch up victims isn't enough.