At a town hall meeting attended by the Mayor, concerned citizens of South Philadelphia propose a myriad of solutions to escalating gun violence.
The emotional yet productive town hall meeting held last night in a humble South Philadelphia recreational center at 26th & Morris Street was intended to be a closed-door gathering for just the men in the community, organized in response to a similar convening a week prior that featured mainly women, many of whom are grief-stricken parents that, according to one of the event’s organizers, “want the men to step up” and intervene in the escalating gun violence that’s ending the lives of many neighborhood youth.
“We’re losing our kids in these streets,” said one young woman in attendance.
“I don’t have any more kids to bury,” said another.
Women, despite the intention for a men-only environment, were present, as were swarms of media, due to the gathering shifting its format and entrance requirements to accommodate Mayor Jim Kenney, a South Philadelphia born politician who desired to attend and speak. His confirmed participation widened the appeal of the event, and it also allowed for the inclusion of other officials: Mr. Kenyatta Johnson, the Councilman for the area, and Mr. Jordan Harris, a State Representative who lives just blocks from the Vare Recreational Center where the conversation on gun violence, which at times became tense, commenced.
The gathering of roughly 100 concerned citizens took on a tone of both hopeful and hopelessness.
“I don’t think we can stop this violence, but we can at least make these kids feel like they’re apart of something,” said a male resident of 31st & Tasker Street who, on more than one occasion during his remarks, said his community has nothing for the kids to look forward to. “We have a bar and a half of a playground,” he lamented.
Mayor Kenney, too, appeared a bit distressed by the lack of support Philadelphia receives from both the Federal and State Government as it relates to gun control. During his remarks he said:
“We have tried in the city to control the flow of guns, and we had a number of pieces of legislation that have been rejected by the court; the Federal government isn’t doing anything to control the flow of guns; the State government isn’t doing anything to control guns.”
As it relates to the latter, State Rep. Harris, in an exclusive interview with Techbook Online, explained why that is.
“Right now a majority of members in the House don’t think there’s a gun issue, and that is the issue.”
Despite the gun violence denial in Harrisburg, State Rep Harris said “we can still interact with those who are using the guns” and provide outlets so that “they’re not picking up a gun in the first place.”
Gun violence intervention was theme of the evening. When Councilman Johnson, who grew up with many of those in the audience, took to the microphone, he said:
“We usually know who’s going to war before it happens,” so at what point in time do we step up to intervene?
Speaking exclusively to Techbook Online after the event, Councilman Johnson, who recently introduced a resolution in City Council to create a commission on youth gun violence and who today hosted a round-table discussion on this issue with various religious leaders, said he “would like the community to be proactive.” When I asked the Councilman why citizens should intervene if it would put them at risk, he replied: “We’re all at risk if we don’t get involved.”
At one point, the media was asked to leave the room, Techbook Online, however, was allowed to remain. What happened next was heartening. Nearly 20 residents lined up to give voice to their solutions to stop the gun violence: entrepreneurship classes to give would-be criminals a chance to earn a living legally; embracing mental health services provided by the City to properly diagnosis trauma and other ailments of the mind which could cause lapses in judgment; conflict resolution courses taught in the community; men patrolling the streets after-school to prevent altercations; investing heavily into recreation to ensure youth have safe spaces to attend; addressing the issue of returning citizens and unemployment and lobbying to have the curfew enforced.
The issue of recreation, moreover, recreational centers, is one that, as of late, has been discussed in local media. Mayor Kenney, who this Thursday will introduce a budget, is seeking to borrow $300 million, an amount that would be matched by donors, to “renovate and refurbish every rec center, library and park in the City.”
“Look at this place… Look at this place,” said the Mayor referring to the building that hosted last night’s convening. “It’s not fair… it’s not equitable for any neighborhood to have a rec center like this.”
The Mayor is proposing a tax on soda to pay for programming, which includes universal Pre-K.
“I’m confident the programs we lay out will be successful,” he said to the media when the event concluded.
Though the Mayor will do his part to try and funnel resources and dollars into communities long ignored, State Rep. Harris warned the audience that there’s no Calvary coming, and that the community must be prepared to own this battle.
The first line of defense on the issue of gun violence is the community, he said, “So I’m encouraged by tonight’s turn-out.
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