In a city where gun violence is prominent, an activist, and an academic, share sentiments on mitigation.
It could be argued that gun violence in Philadelphia is getting out of control. Statistics from a Philadelphia Police Crime Report says aggravated assaults with guns in 2015 increased 11% over 2014, and homicides increased from 240 in 2014 to 280 in 2015. One could assert that the violence prevention programs and initiatives around the City aren’t being effective, but it would be more opportune given the circumstances for a resident, or residents, to advocate forcefully for an addition to the citywide violence reduction strategy: measured usage of violence intervention.
“Violence intervention is still really new and most people don’t do it well,” Mr. Juwan Bennett, a criminal justice teaching assistant at Temple University, informs me during a phone interview.
He contends that to be successful with violence intervention, which is more costly than violence prevention, it would require the assistance of those individuals who once participated in the violence and gang culture, as is the model similarly employed by CeaseFire, a public-health violence intervention program that works largely in North Philadelphia.
“I, as criminal justice professional, can’t just walk into a neighborhood and end the violence; it would take someone who truly knows the community,” said Mr. Bennett, a second year Ph.D student who this summer will teach his first course, which will explore why people commit crimes.
Echoing the sentiments of Mr. Bennett was Mr. Anton Moore, a South Philadelphia anti-violence activist who last week, along with Ms. Nakia Carr, also of South Philly, organized a community meeting, which was closed off to the media and politicians, to address the gun violence. Mr. Moore, speaking exclusively to Techbook Online yesterday about the convening that attracted roughly 50 people, said attendees were “blunt, raw and honest” about the problems in the community. But more than anger and frustration, there was, according to Mr. Moore, solutions put forth by those most impacted by the gun violence.
Intervention was a reoccurring theme last Tuesday at the Dixon House in South Philadelphia. Mr. Moore recalls several people calling for the influential males in the community – and not influential as defined by the mainstream but rather community members who have street credibility and who themselves may have once been victims or perpetrators of gun violence – to approach and mentor the younger city residents who are causing the mayhem.
“We have to build relationships with these young men,” said Mr. Moore, who noted that after Tuesday’s meeting he really understood how important it is to first understand the circumstances of those who are committing the violence.
Mr. Bennett agrees.
“We come at the issue of violence with preconceived ideas and notions; we don’t really try to understand why the violence is happening,” he said.
People usually blame violence on the community without taking into consideration the structural factors, Mr. Bennett stated. Joblessness and a lack of education are the two main ones, but there’s also a strongly enforced street code that’s germane to the underground economy that many residents, in order to survive, find themselves engaged in, suggested Mr. Bennett, who said in the underground economy if someone, for example, steals your drugs, you can’t call law enforcement; thus your only option in most cases is to self-police. The majority of people don’t want to commit violence, he said, but they feel as if they have no choice.
To seek answers on how to reduce gun violence, Philadelphia City Councilman, Mr. Kenyatta Johnson, introduced recently a resolution co-sponsored by all the members of the City’s governing body to form, through a change to the Home Rule Charter which must be approved by voters, a Commission on Youth Gun Violence. Mr. Moore was glad to hear of that news and hopes that among those appointed to the commission that’ll study the problem more intently will be men and women who are closest to this issue and who have the street-cred to influence behavior.
Government surely has a role in this fight, but the problem doesn’t require a government-first response, Mr. Moore implied. Instead, the community should, and can, organize, analyze and moderate itself and then rely on the government for resources, like jobs, opportunities, and mental health services. Mr. Bennett, too, argued that it should be the community who comes to the government with the solutions, and not the other way around. As is the theme of participatory action research, a model of study Mr. Bennett is quite fond of one he recommends for this problem, community residents are the experts and should be treated as such.
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