It was another terrifying day in Philadelphia on Tuesday, with the horrific murder of a 14-year-old football player in Roxborough — after a spray of bullets that also hit four other people and sent young people and their families scrambling for safety. Gun violence in this city seems out of control.
The five young shooters who waited in a car until the J.V. scrimmage let out and then fled after inflicting almost unspeakable violence, are still on the run.
It’s become a sadly familiar story. There have already been 400 homicides in Philadelphia this year, and more than 1,400 nonfatal shootings — putting us on track to surpass last year’s record count. Countless lives — their families, friends, neighbors, teachers — have been traumatized. The city sits in fear — and frustration.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Look at Camden and Newark. And Chester. Those are all cities — gritty, poor, struggling cities — that have cut their gun violence rates significantly, at the same time that Philly’s homicide rate has been climbing for the last several years. Look at Oakland, which reduced shootings by half.
It does not take jailing half the population, or take reform off the table. It does not mean policing is at an end, or has no role in communities devastated by violence. There is no magic formula.
It is hard, and it takes that most elusive of skills in Philadelphia: Collaboration among every branch of government, every criminal justice agency, social service and community groups, neighbors and the mayor. Instead, we have District Attorney Larry Krasner, City Council President Darrell Clarke, and Mayor Jim Kenney pointing fingers at each other; City Councilmembers passing the buck; Kenney giving up; Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw MIA. We get failure.
What could we do instead?
Here, seven gun violence solutions with proven results
1. Enact robust focussed deterrence citywide
A 2014 pilot in Philly found what has been proven around the country: a sustained, deliberate program led by the Mayor’s Office that involves data, pointed policing, social services, violence interruption and regular communication among everyone to prevent shootings before they happen. Oakland and Chester — among others — have used a form of Focussed Deterrence (also called Ceasefire) to reduce shootings in their cities.
2. Support short-term violence intervention, not just long-term prevention
As City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart showed in an audit last month, just 17 percent of the City’s $208 million in anti-violence spending is going towards intervention efforts to reduce violence over the next one to three years. Most of the rest is to support longer-term programs to steer young people away from violence. We can’t wait that long.
3. Expand evidence-based skills training programs that reduce violence
In Chicago, former Education Secretary Arne Duncan launched CRED, which works to interrupt violence in real-time; pays participants to attend counseling, high school classes and job training for nine to 18 months; then helps place them in jobs at one of 40 different Chicago companies.
CRED cut shootings in Chicago’s Southside by 33 percent — while it spiked elsewhere. In Philly, PowerCorpsPHL is successfully doing this work, but needs more resources to reach the volume of people to make a real impact; and the City is launching a pilot of another Chicago program, READI, an evidence-based program that — like CRED — connects young men most at risk for experiencing gun violence with job training and social services. According to the Controller’s Office, that pilot got $2 million from the City. We can do better.
4. Reform policing …
In Newark and Camden, gun violence has plummeted at the same time as policing has changed. In Camden, a state takeover of the department forced a new way to think about the way officers patrol and how they partner with residents, which has led to more trust and to more arrests. In Newark, Mayor Ras Baraka has empowered Aqeela Sherrills’ Newark Community Streets Team to work alongside — sometimes instead of — officers to keep the peace in neighborhoods, which even the police department says has helped stem the violence.
5. … but also do responsible policing and prosecution
Less than half of all shootings result in an arrest; put another way, at least half the time in Philly you can literally get away with murder. At the same time, despite doubling the number of arrests, the conviction rate for illegally possessing a firearm has plummeted. Meanwhile, the people who live in the most violent neighborhoods — mostly Black and Brown families — are the ones most clamoring for increased police presence. It’s not a progressively popular sentiment, but neither is rampant gun violence.
6. Invest in public spaces
Sometimes, it’s not about guns, or even the people using them. It’s about built environment, designing and redesigning streets, crosswalks, parking lots, parks, so it’s hard for shooters to hide or drive through. Portland, Oregon’s Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood closed a slip lane, installed traffic barrels, reduced trash, increased trees, and blocked off a parking lot. Then, it activated community spaces and found funding to repair homes. Crime went down. Quality of life went up.
7. Teach young men to think more clearly
We’ve all heard the statistics: Most gun violence is impulsive, over petty beefs: You looked at my girl. You looked at me wrong. I’m gonna shoot you.
What if we could work with impulsive thinkers, typically young men, to help reconfigure how they think, to teach them to take a beat before acting, to consider what they should do before they do it? That moment could be the difference between life and death, incarceration and freedom.
A Boston-born program called ROCA takes mentorship to the next level, picking out “at-risk” kids and relentlessly encouraging them to join in, then sticking with them no matter what. It’s a heavy lift. It’s a deep dive. A serious commitment — not at all a quick fix. But it does change minds, often permanently.
MORE COVERAGE OF GUN VIOLENCE SOLUTIONS
Header photo by Rux Centea / Unsplash