Like Philly’s neighborhoods, city agencies are siloed and don’t always talk to each other.
Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who joined his constituents in the 2nd Councilmanic District on Labor Day to protest a store that was selling BB guns to kids, tweeted yesterday that his bill to increase fines for shopkeepers who are caught peddling BB/plastic/airsoft guns to minors has passed.
This good news comes days after it was revealed that from 2007-2013 there were two fatal shootings where Philadelphia police officers discharged their weapons on assailants who had plastic and pellet guns – though in one of the deadly situations the offender, who wasn’t a minor, was also in possession of a .38 revolver.
The issue of illegal BB guns may seem like just a South Philadelphia problem because that’s where the origins of the movement to rid them from the streets began, but the data suggest these toy guns have resulted in trouble all over the city, with the 25th Police District in North Philadelphia – which is represented by City Council President Darrell Clarke – seeing the most cases of officer-involved shootings.
The uprising in activism and consistency of questioning from a handful of South Philadelphia residents did more than get a stubborn clerk to agree to stop selling BB guns, it exposed a lack of coordination and communication between city agencies, which I assume most taxpayers already knew existed.
But one thing taxpayers weren’t aware of – or at least those in South Philadelphia who I spoke to – was that law enforcement officers aren’t required to study the law they’re enforcing.
The police officers who arrived on the scene on Labor Day were more interested in clearing a pathway to the store than they were in actually searching the location for the illegal goods neighbors alleged was inside. And that was because the officers claimed they were unaware of the city ordinance and didn’t have probable cause to search the store, despite residents showing them footage of minors buying illegal goods.
Even now, with the bill passing and fines increased, the issue still stands that police can’t (or won’t, depending on who you talk to) just randomly search a private location – like they do private citizens who happen to most times be black or brown – and seize what’s illegal.
Enforcing Councilman Johnson’s new bill will be – as it was supposed to be with the 2001 city ordinance – a collective effort between Licenses and Inspections and the Philadelphia Police Department. But history shows, at least on this issues, that they don’t coordinate or communicate with each other, let alone following up on business owners who break the law.
And though fines are increased, there will be no education or awareness campaign – citing a lack of funds to roll it out – to back it up, which means honest store owners who aren’t aware that they’re doing anything illegal will be sh*t out of luck if they get caught.
Some may say: “how can a store owner not know its illegal? My response is: the same way the police officers didn’t.
So while I applaud the efforts of the activists who kept this issue on the front page, and I acknowledge the hard work of Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, in my opinion a bigger plan needs to be drawn up and implemented. And not just one that tracks the sales of illegal BB guns, but a plan for connecting government agencies in an effort to have a constant conversation about solving the City’s toughest problems.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™