With homicide rates in Philadelphia up by 6% last year, residents in West Philadelphia are voicing their concerns about the gun violence in their neighborhood. More than 50 people attended the “Report to the People” community outreach forum at the Vine Memorial Baptist Church on Thursday, Nov. 21.
Attendees discussed gun violence in their community and across the city, as well as gun violence prevention programs.
“It’s just sad,” said Terry Edwards, an attendee who lives near the church. “I think that gun violence is really something that needs to be addressed right away.”
People also voiced other concerns they had in the community, like asbestos in schools and construction plans in West Philadelphia.
Prominent political figures in the area, including Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr. from the 4th District, Rep. Morgan Cephas from Pennsylvania’s 192nd District, and former Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell from the state’s 190th District, sat down for a panel discussion.
On Wednesday, Dec. 4, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro charged Johnson-Harrell with theft, perjury, and tampering, including spending $500,000 of money from her nonprofits on personal expenses. She announced plans to resign after her indictment.
Nationally, more than 300 people are killed or injured by guns every day according to the Brady Campaign against gun violence. The United States has a gun homicide rate 25 times higher than other developed countries and nearly 1,700 children and teens die from shootings annually, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.
Thompson noted the importance of discussing impactful issues such as gun violence.
“I tell people democracy is not a spectator sport,” Thompson said. “Folks have to get involved in civic and cultural affairs in their communities.”
Thompson first asked questions relating to gun violence to all three panelists, asking how they would reduce gun violence in the city and what hurdles they face when dealing with gun violence.
“We reserve the right to try and protect our babies,” Jones said. “So, we will take whatever measures we deem necessary and if the NRA wants to sue us, fine.”
Cephas and Johnson-Harrell spoke about what it is like getting legislation passed when there is a Republican-majority in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
“The sad part is that because the Republicans are in the majority that no common sense gun legislation can even go to a committee on a vote,” Johnson-Harrell said.
The panelists also discussed police reform. Jones talked about how police officers need to be held accountable in regards to police brutality.
“The same rules apply for our children in two in the morning as they do for men and women in blue during the day,” he said.
Thompson then opened the floor up for the audience to ask questions.
Most of the questions were about gun violence, though questions about schools and local poverty also came up.
“I thought it was very informative in terms of giving you an idea what the elected officials are thinking,” said Kim Fuller, who attended the event.
Fuller was concerned about asbestos in schools in Philadelphia. In October of this year, Benjamin Franklin High School and the Science Leadership Academy were closed indefinitely due to asbestos. Like many schools in Philadelphia, the building was built before the 1980s, which means that asbestos fibers were used during construction. When airborne, asbestos can cause scarring of the lungs, cancers, and other diseases.
Jones addressed the issue by explaining the Philadelphia School District’s Environmental Safety Improvement Plan, which focuses on increasing the frequency of inspections and the creation of an app where you can report asbestos in schools, and more.
“I liked the information they gave on the schools,” Fuller said. “I don’t know how accurate it is or when we’re gonna see the results of it, but it was certainly encouraging information that some things are about to happen in terms of the asbestos that is plaguing our schools.”
Over the past few weeks, Philadelphia has seen a spur of gun violence against children. The Philadelphia police have responded to six shootings of children within 23 days.
“We have to begin to conversate with our children so we’re not losing them to the streets,” Fuller said. “Every time somebody’s killed, that’s somebody’s brother, cousin, dad and their blood runs down the street senselessly. I think that we have to begin to engage our young people and let them down how important their participation is and that death is final.”
Prior to resigning, Johnson-Harrell had sponsored two pieces of legislation that deal with gun violence. She sponsored the House Bill 1889, which would require a selection committee to accept proposals for a nonpartisan research center for gun violence in Pennsylvania. Colleges and state-related and state-owned institutions would be eligible to submit proposals to host the center. The center would be responsible for working with the state’s executive and legislative branches to identify, implement, and innovate gun violence prevention policies and programs.
Bill 1889 was referred to committee as of Sept. 26, 2019.
“I think that everybody has to get involved,” Fuller said. “I think that people have to stop hiding behind their curtains and stop being afraid. Mothers have to talk to their sons. Fathers have to talk to their sons.”
Resolution 534 was referred to judiciary as of Sept. 26, 2019.
“We need more prevention programs,” Edwards said. “Somehow they need to get together and get these guns off the streets. I don’t see how you can go to any affair that deals with kids with a gun in your pocket. It’s just crazy.”
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