Gun Violence: One Organization’s Mission to Promote Peace in Local Neighborhoods

The Philadelphia Anti-drug/Anti-violence Network (PAAN) is a local nonprofit organization working to combat Philadelphia’s gun violence crisis. PAAN’s mission is to promote safer communities by offering programs to victims of drug abuse and gun violence throughout the city’s neighborhoods. Malika Lovelace, the senior CCIP communications advocate at PAAN sat down to speak about the organization’s mission to achieve safer communities throughout Philadelphia.

Can you talk about PAAN and its mission?

PAAN was founded by James Mills, and Darryl Coates supported him in 1989 as a result of an earlier program called Crisis Intervention. It was a whole new thing, a new stigma. They healed the gang violence. It wasn’t gun violence at the time in the ‘70s and ‘80s but it was a lot of violence with the gangs. The gangs used knives and more physical violence, and so they created the program that took the Indigenous service providers, people from that community, people who were involved with former gang lords, old heads, and went out into the communities and changed them entirely, calling for truces throughout the city to a point we went from the ‘70s horrible gang violence numbers to us not even having gangs anymore. That’s where Philadelphia’s Anti-drug/Anti-violence Network was born, in result to not having an understanding of the new violence, the new era of drug culture, and the need for new support. 

So, this program was set up with the motto that we make house calls because one of the things that happens is the people that we service don’t look for help. If you don’t come to them and tell them about resources, they will never know about it because they stay on their blocks, on the corners, and in their houses. They are not open to outsiders. You know, anyone with a pen and a notepad, a badge that looks like a cop or DHS is a threat to the community. So, this program was set up to be a liaison between the service providers and the community. 

How do you get people involved in the programs?

We’re literally going out into the streets. We receive information from the city about who was a gunshot victim, the violence incidents and we respond to those. In addition to responding, we also say things like “we were here before the violence.” So even the areas that haven’t experienced the high-profile incidents and recent violent activity, we try to set a presence by setting up food giveaways in the community by letting them know we are here and what we are here for. We’ll do door-to-door canvassing. We’ll just knock-on doors, introduce the team to the community, and let them know we are here. We come in hand with food, gift certificates, victim compensations. 

Members of PAAN giving back to the community. (Malika Lovelace/PAAN)

Is there an average age group involved in the programs? 

When I first started this work, we were concerned about 15 to 25. They were the real criminals caught up in the mess and our goal was to change their minds and get them focused. Unfortunately, it has changed. It is now the age of 11 that we have to catch them before we don’t want them to become active. For example, 12-year-olds are the hitters now. That’s the term you use when you get assassinated. They use them because juveniles can’t get life now, they just get a set amount of time. It’s really scary because they are snatching these babies’ childhoods. So, we still have the time to grasp the child before they can become shooters because that’s who’s shooting now. 

How many programs does PAAN offer?

We are just working with three programs right now. The Community Crisis Intervention Program, which is the one I’m the communications advocate for, we also have IPS, Intervention Prevention Services, where we focus on younger children through after school programs and weekend activities. We do a lot with those kids to give them options and show them direction outside of what may be going on in their homes or school. These kids are referred to us by their teachers, by DHS, and the community. We also have our Human Service Department, which is who we do our referrals to and they are our link to everything. They are the advocates with DHS, and they have a ton of resources. We’re like a one-stop-shop and a hub to all the resources that are available in the different communities. 

Is there a specific neighborhood that experiences the most violence?

Right now, South Philly. South Philly’s mess is everywhere. Even though it may happen in Southwest and West Philadelphia, it’s unfortunately all connected to a decades long turf war. When they built the projects in South Philly, they gave out Section 8 vouchers. People from the projects disseminated themselves throughout West Philly and Southwest thinking they were running from their problems, but they actually brought these problems to other communities. And then, when you add on the internet and social media, I think it was about 2017 when I started realizing the songs, the hashtags, and what I was witnessing on social media was actually transferring into the reality of my caseload. 

Why are the gun violence rates rising?

Here in Philadelphia, the normalcy of jail and probation, it’s like every kid has a story about someone missing from their household, coming back and forth from jail. Every kid has an “I lost someone to gun violence story.” It desensitizes you. Going to jail is a badge of honor almost, with the kids who mimic the culture that’s being pushed in the prevalence of the music. You know, being a killer, being on drugs, being desensitized to emotion, they internalize that and live that.

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