A big news story today is that Chicago, the nation’s third largest city, has reached 500 homicides thus far this year, which far exceeds the numbers in other big, urban locales, like Philadelphia, where homicides are up 10%, according to the police department. But the even bigger story, the one mainstream media will likely not discuss this news cycle or even the next, is that most, if not all, American police departments currently lack the infrastructure or resources to truly track how guns – which are involved in the majority of homicides in Chicago, Philadelphia and elsewhere – come into communities.
According to Lt. John Stanford of the Philadelphia Police Department, one of the nation’s largest, when asked whether his agency or others around the country have a formal process of tracking how guns cross city borders, such a model likely doesn’t exist nationwide and one surely isn’t in play in Philadelphia, where the rate of youth firearm possession is so prominent that 2nd District City Councilman Mr. Kenyatta Johnson introduced a resolution creating a youth gun violence commission to further examine the issue.
Tracking of guns in Philadelphia does happen when apart of a shooting incident investigation, said Lt. Stanford, but the sources of the gun supply remains an unknown to the department and, at the moment, identifying said source isn’t a top priority – the priority, according to the Lieutenant, who serves as the department’s spokesperson, is getting the guns out of people’s hands.
Mr. Bilal Quyyam, an anti-violence activist who not long ago penned a letter to the Governor of Pennsylvania requesting a session to examine how guns are coming into communities, praised the Philadelphia Police Commissioner when we talked but remarked that the department hasn’t done a good job executing major gun busts.
Lt. Stanford actually agrees with Mr. Quyyam, who’s the organizer of an upcoming October conference on community violence.
“Guns are so hard to catch,” said Lt. Stanford, who asked me when is the last time I heard of a “shipment of guns” being intercepted by law enforcement.
My answer to him was that, in recent memory, I haven’t heard such a headline articulated. And, given the department’s priority, I will likely hear it much later than sooner.
It’s no secret that the Philadelphia Police Department is understaffed and is always seeking to recruit. In fact, most police departments, particularly after the Ferguson uprising and the ascension of the Black Lives Matter movement, have struggled to attract new recruits.
The lack of manpower, coupled with the fact that police departments are tasked with responding to everything from family disputes at cookouts to deadly turf wars in neighborhoods, makes it quite difficult to form a task-force to focus solely on the issue of illegal gun travel; and even if formed, what exactly would the task-force do beyond studying the issue?
“We can’t do it by ourselves, we need federal help,” said Lt. Stanford, who noted that, on a local level, the resources aren’t there to track what’s coming in via sea waters and postal mail.
Mr. Donald Trump, who will be in Philadelphia Wednesday afternoon delivering a speech at the Union League in Center City, has lamented about neighborhood crime often and said that, if elected, he will solve it, though he’s offered no specifics, not even when he met with African-American leaders here and in Detroit. Mrs. Clinton on the other hand has laid out a few talking points regarding gun violence, mostly surrounding laws and expanding background checks, but hasn’t spoken about the source of illegal guns and how they circumvent police, the National Guard and other institutions.
In Philadelphia, the outlook on this subject matter is rather bleak: homicides are on the rise, common-sense gun laws are a non-starter in the State legislature, the police department has no apparatus to significantly prevent straw-purchases or the travel of illegal guns across city borders, more than a quarter of the City lives in poverty and the school system is, and has been for a long time, grossly ineffective at delivering a quality education that prepares every student to compete and create in the marketplace – but Philadelphia isn’t unique in this context, as the aforementioned description could be applied to cities like Chicago and Baltimore.
What citizens need to hear is that this problem is systemic, nationwide, and enormous, and that solving it is not only easier said than done, but will require a fully integrated and inter-sectional response from community and government, the latter which has traditionally worked in silo and has failed to recognize how social issues are linked together.
Gun violence, the type carried out by an individual who purchased their weapon illegally, impacts urban communities across America everyday and is a leading cause of death for some groups of people. Stopping guns from entering communities absolutely requires federal intervention, and until such intervention occurs, gun violence will reside in our communities, and in some cases, gun violence will outlive residents.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
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Photo courtesy of the author.