The Lead

Philly City Council panel digs into the factors driving gun violence epidemic

By: - February 7, 2023 10:18 am
Katrina Pratt-Roebuck (C), of Philadelphia's Dept. of Behavioral Health & Intellectual Disabilities Services, says poverty and domestic violence help to drive gun violence in the city.

Katrina Pratt-Roebuck (C), of Philadelphia’s Dept. of Behavioral Health & Intellectual Disabilities Services, says poverty and domestic violence help to drive gun violence in the city (Philadelphia Tribune photo).

By Stephen Williams

PHILADELPHIA — Poverty, domestic violence, mental illness and substance abuse all contribute to the city’s surge in gun violence, according to a panel convened Monday at City Hall.

A roundtable discussion led by City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, D-2nd District, brought together city agencies that are working on strategies to stem the violence such as the Office of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Criminal Justice and Public Safety and the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services (DBHIDS), along with many nonprofit groups that are on the front lines of providing trauma-informed care.

“This was an opportunity to come up with strategies and recommendations about how we support them as they address the issues of trauma for those who have been victims or co-victims of gun violence,” Johnson said. “This was an opportunity to build a bridge between city government and the nonprofits organizations that are on the front lines of this issue.”

Panelist Katrina Pratt-Roebuck, senior director at the city’s Department of Behavioral Health And Intellectual Disability Services, spoke about a focus group with those behind the violence.

“We wanted to get an understanding of what could have been helpful and would have changed the trajectory of their lives had they had the resources,” Pratt-Roebuck said. “A lot of times, they talked about their experiences with poverty, domestic violence in the home and what could have been helpful, like if they had an opportunity of a loved one or caregiver point them in the right direction, and say you don’t have to do that.

Most of the people on the panel had one or more experiences with family members who were killed or wounded by gun violence and subsequently formed non-profit groups to fight gun violence as a form of therapy or keeping their loved ones memories alive, they said.

Some included Dorothy Johnson-Speight, founder/national director of Mothers in Charge; Felicia Pendleton, founder, Mothers United by Angels; Rosalind Pichardo, founder, Operation Save Our City; Chantay Love, Every Murder is Real (EMIR) Healing Center; Michelle Parker, The Long Live Evan Foundation; Darnetta Greene, Moms Bonded by Grief; Cherise Pearson, The Apologues; Oronde McClain, Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting; Victoria Wylie, Donte Wylie Foundation; and Angela Wade, CEO of JED III, Inc. and program director of the McClain Foundation.

“We have about 3,500 shootings a year,” Johnson said.

Last year, Philadelphia reported 516 homicides most of which were the result of gun violence. That was down by 8% from 2021. But that year the city reported a record 562 homicides, also mostly the result of gunfire, according to police figures.

According to the City Controller’s office, 91% of people killed in 2022 were males and 79% of them were African American; and 47% were between the ages of 18 and 30.

As of Sunday, there have been 41 homicides in 2023, a 13% decrease from the previous year, police said.

Meanwhile, the groups and city agencies promised to share information about grants, best practices and other issues.

Johnson said he will recommend that Mayor Jim Kenney invest more money in trauma-informed therapy, especially for younger people in the upcoming city operating budget.

“We are making sure we have an opportunity for us to collaborate and partner around this very critical issue,” Johnson said. “One outcome was an opportunity for the nonprofit group to partner with the DBHIDS and allow them a seat at the table.”

Stephen Williams is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.