Community leaders seek solutions as gun homicides spike in Philadelphia

More than 320 people have died to gun violence in Philadelphia this year, almost twice as many homicides as the much larger city of Los Angeles. Ali Rogin explores the factors behind this year's spike and how communities are responding.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    The city of Philadelphia is on pace to see the most homicides ever in one year mainly due to gun violence. More than 1200 people there have been shot and more than 320 of those victims died. That's almost double the total number of homicides in the much larger city of Los Angeles. Just this week, seven people were shot in four different Philadelphia neighborhoods in just over an hour. My colleague Ali Rogin explores what's behind this year spike.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Residents and community leaders say Philadelphia's gun violence spike has deep roots, and that many of those factors were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To discuss those root causes and what can be done to address them, I'm joined by Sammy Caiola. She's a Gun Violence Prevention Reporter with WHYY, a public radio station in Philadelphia and Pastor Carl Day. He's the Founder of Culture Changing Christians Worship Center and a leader in the Philadelphia Faith Communities Violence Prevention efforts.

    Thank you so much for both of you, for joining us. Sammy, you recently concluded a two month listening tour in which you spoke to different stakeholders all throughout Philadelphia about these problems. What did people tell you?

  • Sammy Caiola, WHYY Gun Violence Prevention Reporter:

    People told me that they do not feel safe in their own neighborhoods. They are afraid to sit on their porches to walk down the street and go to the store. They feel that their neighborhoods have been neglected by public officials and by law enforcement. And I'm speaking specifically about the areas of the city hardest hit by gun crime, parts of North Philly and West Philly. These are places that were already facing systemic issues, poor school systems, poverty, food insecurity, and that has all sort of exacerbate — you know, it's been exacerbated by the pandemic and really driven the violence we're seeing now.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Pastor Carl, these are the very communities that you are active in, what are you hearing from your congregation, and from the other individuals that you serve in these communities?

  • Pastor Carl Day, Culture Changing Christians:

    Yeah, I'm seeing and hearing a lot of sentiments of hopelessness, people are very tired. People are really feeling like, you know, they're running out of options or answers, per se. And a lot of young people as well, are sick and tired of the violence.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Last year, 75% of gun violence victims were black men. And among those a quarter were between 18 and 24 years old. Pastor Carl, why is this demographic so vulnerable? And what can be done to address those issues?

  • Pastor Carl Day:

    I mean, well, honestly, speaking, right now, there's a problem culturally, there's a problem with influence. And I often say that today's world and society, in our neighborhoods killing as a currency to culture. Young people have let conflict resolution skills. Oftentimes, that demographic in which I'm working with have been failed, you know, throughout their households, been failed throughout public school education, and failed even via social media and whatnot. Some of the things that we're doing is really trying to provide paid opportunities to help restore and rehabilitate the mindsets of these young men, because they really carry out the most influence, especially when it comes to that younger generation from 12 to 17. So that's a lot of what we've been doing. And it's about really grabbing those young men that we know who are potentially perpetrators or victims of violence. They're the ones who can really go back and empower the younger people in our communities and prevent the continual spread of this gun violence.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Sammy, I want to look at what government officials are doing. How have Philadelphia's leaders addressed these problems in recent years and how is the community responding?

  • Sammy Caiola:

    So the city is trying a lot of different things at once. One strategy is giving funding to nonprofits so that they can execute prevention in their own neighborhoods. But there has been some difficulty with distributing that money, nonprofits see a lot of red tape. And they don't necessarily get, you know, as direct a funding as they might like to see. A lot of residents are calling on the city to improve just quality of life in their neighborhoods. We see a lot of trash in Philadelphia. We see vacant lots. We see just signs of disinvestment that the city has not, you know, successfully addressed.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Right. And all those individual things that you just brought up can add up to these feelings of hopelessness that you and Pastor Carl both spoke about. Sammy, I want to stick with you looking at the state legislature, most states in this country actually have what are known as preemption laws, which prevent cities from enacting more stringent gun regulations that exist at the state level. In in Pennsylvania's case, how has that affected the interplay between the laws on the books in Pennsylvania, and what Philadelphia might want to do, which they cannot?

  • Sammy Caiola:

    Philadelphia is unable to make its own gun policy, we have to go through Harrisburg, and some of our attempts have been blocked. There was a huge influx in legal gun ownership in Philadelphia during the pandemic. And there were also increased reports of stolen firearms. So I think any, you know, young person will tell you, in certain neighborhoods, that it's very easy to get a firearm. And so combined with the systemic issues and the frustration and hopelessness and, you know, lack of a better path, it's just very easy right now for arguments to escalate to gunfire in certain parts of the city, because so many people are armed.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Pastor Carl, it seems to often fall to organizations like yours to pick up the slack. Do you feel like grassroots organizations and individuals like yourself have enough support to get the job done?

  • Pastor Carl Day:

    It's a great question. I would say no, I believe that, you know, government is a lot of money out there to organizations and trying to provide on a financial level. But I do believe at the same time, there's a failure as a collective from the community. I believe that while Philadelphia is called to pretty progressive city, we're seeing a lot of progressive whites and others move into Philadelphia, talk about the history behind the gun violence, but not really show up where the people are, where these issues are. People can show up downtown to rallies, they can, you know, March, they can do a lot of those things, and be outraged online. But offline, I don't think that none of the grassroots leaders are sitting here seeing that same outrage or that same outcry over that same outpour of support.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Well, we thank both of you for being on the ground and bringing your observations to us. Sammy Caiola, with WHYY, Pastor Carl Day with Culture Changing Christians. Thank you both so much for your time.

  • Sammy Caiola:

    Thanks for having me.

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