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The hundred people who gathered on the North Apron of City Hall Friday afternoon brought a unified message: Elected officials have a responsibility to do something about gun violence in Philadelphia.
âWe know the mayor cannot do it all alone, but the resources start there,â said event co-organizer Zahirah Ahmad.
Addressing the growing crowd, Ahmad recalled a year ago today, when the city council moved to allocate $ 85 million for COVID relief. The legislative move came about two weeks after Philly registered its first local case of the coronavirus.
“Whenever we approach you [about gun violence], it’s always the budget, the budget, the budget, âsaid Ahmad of Nicetown. âYou have money to allocate for the things you need. But you can’t put the money and the resources back into the communities.
The purpose of the rally was twofold. Organizers of a group called Not On My Watch wanted to show their support for activist Jamal Johnson’s previous demonstration of accountability, which included two separate hunger strikes urging Mayor Jim Kenney to take more action against gun violence.
Protesters and event planners have also gathered to highlight the idea that the mayor, city council members and other government officials have the power to affect what some call “neighborhood gun violence” or âgun violence in the communityâ – even if they don’t work in law enforcement.
âBefore we can eradicate violence, we must help eradicate poverty,â Ahmad said. âSo we have to put the resources here for children and families.â
Renee McDonald attended the protest holding a photo of her 19-year-old nephew, Marcel Core, who was killed in 1996. Twenty-five years later, her death and the deaths of thousands since have had residual effects on mental health that government funding could help. said McDonald, who is a member of the popular anti-violence organization Mothers In Charge.
âPeople who shoot are often victims of trauma themselves,â said the West Philadelphia native. âWe don’t have trauma care in our neighborhood. “
Activists, researchers and community members have been saying similar things for years. The speakers highlighted private and public strategic divestment in the majority of black and Latino communities, especially as one of the many root causes of gun violence.
Recently, leaders urged authorities to reallocate government resources to community programs.
That’s what the Black Lives Matter movement’s call to âfund the policeâ means, said Eric Knight, a Germantown resident and host of the Philly Unfiltered podcast. âThey just wanted to redirect funds that would normally go to the police to social services. Put it in homeless aid. Put him in mental therapy. Give the children something to do.
Can injecting funds into education, mental health initiatives and other social services really help reduce crime and violence? A number of academic sources say yes.
A 2018 National Bureau of Economic Research study found that opening more mental health and addiction facilities could reduce a county’s social cost of crime by $ 4.2 million per year.
Education also has a measurable effect. In 2004, researchers determined that âschooling significantly reduces the likelihood of incarceration and arrestâDue to changes in the criminal behavior of individuals.
Even the expense of city offices that seemingly do not deal with crime, such as the Department of Streets or licenses and inspections, can make a difference. A 2019 study that partially focused on Philadelphia found cleansed and green outdoor space had a positive effect on reducing violence. The researchers added that “municipal governments and communities are empowered to support these interventions.”
The organizer of the rally, Ahmad, said she believed the city government had not taken significant enough steps to fund education, trauma and anti-violence programs because âthey ‘don’t care’. Even though they work in the city, she said, “they pulled out of the situation because it’s not on their doorstep.”
One of the youngest participants in the march was Yahmir Johnson, 14, who joined the protest with his aunt and grandmother. It had been a month since her cousin, Jabree, 18, had been shot and killed.
âIt really touched me there,â said Johnson of West Oak Lane. “We should have taken the guns off the streets before that, but it really hurt me really bad there.”
Throughout the afternoon, speakers repeated the refrain that the children of Philadelphia need accessible and well-funded extracurricular activities, and that schools that are physically deteriorating need more resources. âWe are depriving our children of a childhood,â Ahmad said over the megaphone. âAnd then you want to know how come the world is the way it is. Because we didn’t protect them when they were kids.
What does 14-year-old Johnson think he needs? âI don’t know what I need,â he said. “I just need family, that’s all.”
The teenager cannot speak for his peers, he said, because he does not know them. Johnson voluntarily remains alone. Have friends ? âThat’s how my cousin got killed.