Wherever you get your news, you probably see some of the same headlines:
Our gun violence prevention programs are failing to meet their goals!
People are up in arms over a proposed new Sixers arena!
The new mayor should do this or that!
We love our sports teams (when we’re not busy loving to hate them)!
With all of these ideas swirling in my head, we came up with an idea:
What if we Philadelphians approached our gun violence crisis as if it were one of our professional sports teams, like the Eagles or Sixers or Phillies? What if we rallied everyone behind this movement to prevent violence the way the teams rally everyone in the city behind their sports? What if we celebrated the heroes who are keeping our streets safe the way we do Jalen Hurts and Bryce Harper — and celebrate the wins the way we do when our teams bring home a banner (or even just eke out a victory)?
Here’s what it could look like.
Step 1: Hold a citywide “draft”
For just a minute, let’s stop debating the merits or shortcomings of a new Sixers arena, and focus our attention on using one of our existing arenas for a bold idea. Use the Linc, or the Wells Fargo Center, or the Bank, to convene every single individual and group who is currently involved with gun violence work or who wants to be involved with the work. I mean literally everyone — schools, City departments, nonprofits, businesses, politicians, kids, grandparents … .enough people to fill a Philadelphia sports stadium.
Get everyone — along with every pro athlete in the city who cares about our residents (we know there are a lot of them) — in one place. Invoke the kind of solidarity and spirit our city typically reserves only for Eagles games and post-season Phillies celebrations on Broad Street.
There is a lot of talk about how the next Mayor will be tasked with addressing our gun violence epidemic. And it’s true that Mayors can take action like declaring a state of emergency, directing resources, and hiring people to make a difference. But if we really want to change our gun violence problem, we have to come together as a community — as citizens who care.
The prevention, intervention, and treatment component of our city’s violence prevention strategy should address the needs of the community and help prevent crime and violence by addressing the risk and protective factors associated with drug abuse, violence, and crime. Coordinated efforts of law enforcement, community groups, social service agencies, private sector businesses, and residents help improve the provision of services.
Prevention, intervention, and treatment must include youth services, school programs, and social programs. Safe havens in each area of the city, for example, could provide a mechanism for organizing and delivering an array of youth- and adult-oriented human services in a multiservice center setting such as a school or community site. Every violence prevention site should have at least one safe haven.
Step 2: Grind – together
Many of the groups who have received significant funding for gun violence prevention work have been coming under scrutiny for mishandling funds or not meeting their stated goals (or both). While I believe there are measures that should’ve been put in place to avoid these outcomes — like making sure organizations have boards, employees, and financial oversight in place — the bigger problem is that so much of the anti-violence work being done right now is taking place in silos, without any organized collaboration. What ends up happening is redundancies in some places, and total gaps in others.
Instead, we should run our violence prevention initiatives as a sports franchise would. We need a GM, a coaching staff, government relations, public relations, finance, social media, outreach, sales, and so on.
Critically, we need to ensure that all departments communicate with each other regularly.
So much of the anti-violence work being done right now is taking place in silos, without any organized collaboration.
Remember during the pandemic, how mayors from different cities would regularly meet via Zoom to discuss best practices and share resources? That’s what people involved in gun violence prevention need to do more of: Organize; delegate; communicate; collect data; iterate; improve. I’m not arguing for increased bureaucracy or hierarchical layers or middle managers for the sake of org charts. To the contrary, I’m arguing for efficiency, structure, and communication along the lines of what our city has done for mega-events like the Pope’s visit. We can do this. We have done it!
Let’s take the sports analogy one step further: We should create a citywide contest for citizens of any age to come up with a team name and a logo for this anti-violence team. We should sell merchandise to raise money for resources, and give away merch to anyone who wants to proudly wear it to spread the message against violence!
We should publish stats about violence every day — not just our murder rate, but other measures of violence and safety as well, like special community events that focus attention on crime prevention and help galvanize support for preventing crime, violence, and drug and youth-led community service projects that make their communities less vulnerable and hospitable to drug dealers. There is an age-appropriate way to involve every single person in our city in this work, to get everyone involved and invested.
Step 3: Review the tapes. Look for successes…and the failures.
The way our athletes review game tapes to boost on-field performance, evaluating our community projects is very important. Almost as important as understanding what evaluation is, is understanding what it is not: Evaluation is not just summarizing what has been done, or reporting that there were no problems. It’s also not just seeking feedback from people who were involved to see whether they were happy with what we have done. And it’s not about saying that people who received the service or product we delivered are better off, simply because it now exists, without any evidence to support this conclusion.
A good evaluation can determine whether a project has been implemented as planned, what outcomes have been delivered as a result, and whether the stated objectives of a project have been achieved. It can also tell you the reasons that a project did or did not work. Thorough evaluation, especially when it comes to gun violence prevention, is essential, not only for the lives it may or may not have saved, but also to know if the program should continue, and how, and how much funding it needs, and what needs to change, and where else it might be successful.:
Step 4: Celebrate the wins
You know what the best part of being a Philly sports fan is? Being with other Philly sports fans. That’s why, working together, our city’s new “team” should celebrate its wins. When the murder rate goes down, we should have a parade. When school violence incidents go down, we should have a parade.
We should have trading cards celebrating folks who are making a real difference. We should have community dinners and award ceremonies. We should constantly cultivate opportunities for young people to teach and lead.
We should constantly reward and celebrate creativity, energy and effort loudly and with spirit. Whenever possible, let young people take the lead on the form the celebration will take.
With all of that in mind, let’s get to work, and let’s go Team!
The Citizen welcomes guest commentary from community members who represent that it is their own work and their own opinion based on true facts that they know firsthand.
This piece is supported by the Credible Messenger Reporting Project, an initiative of the Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting.
MORE SOLUTIONS TO THE GUN VIOLENCE PROBLEM FROM THE CITIZEN
The Philadelphia Eagles parade up Broad Street during a Super Bowl victory parade, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy Visit Philly