The Lead

Philly’s Black clergy gives Kenney an ‘F’ for gun violence response

By: - March 21, 2022 10:04 am

The Rev. Robert Collier, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia (Philadelphia Tribune photo).

By Brian Saunders

PHILADELPHIA — One year after the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity introduced a Gun Violence Elimination Plan, it’s giving Mayor Jim Kenney a failing grade in addressing that epidemic.

After a city record of 562 homicides in 2021, there have already been 106 homicides this year.

According to the Rev. Gregory Holston, chairman of the Criminal Justice Reform and Violence Prevention Committee, the plan calls for a state of emergency, $100 million in grant funding and a government-appointed person who would have the power to bring resources and government agencies together to collaborate.

“We called for a state of emergency,” Holston told the Philadelphia Tribune. “It is our view that the issue is of such a critical crisis in the city that it was important for the mayor to call a state of emergency to bring all the resources to bear as quickly as they needed to be around fighting gun violence in our city.”

The Rev. Robert Collier, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, said that a state of emergency would show grieving parents and grandparents who are co-victims of gun violence that the mayor cares.

“If he (Kenney) would just declare a state of emergency, that will be some relief for them (grieving parents),” Collier said. They will at least realize that he understands the severity of what’s going on.”

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Throughout 2021, Philadelphia officials touted the funding given to gun violence prevention organizations. Holston said that although the $20 million was a fifth of the amount the Black clergy group requested, it was a substantial upgrade to the $1 million allocated in years past. However, the group says of the money awarded, only 20% was received by organizations.

According to Holston, the Black clergy group worked with close to 40 of the city’s grassroots organizations, such as CeaseFire and Every Murder is Real (EMIR).

“It is our view that gun violence is most effectively fought by supporting those closest to the ground community organizations that have been severely underfunded over the years,” Holston said. “Therefore, our opinion is that it is very necessary for the reduction to occur for those resources to be given.”

Holston mentioned collaborators such as recreation centers, trash pickup, neighborhood block cleanings, Liquor Control Board, licenses, and inspections agencies as resources you would not normally associate with gun violence as partners to work towards stopping gun violence.

“All the agencies have a stake in reducing gun violence because they repair and build the overall community,” Holston said. “And as we felt, the underlying community, because of poverty and racism, has caused these negative effects on our young people and has led them into this gun violence they’re involved with.”

Collier and Holston said that the mayor ignored their calls and letters and has not responded to the clergy’s attempts to meet with him.

“We’re going to continue meeting with whomever we can meet with so that we can get a collaborative effort to end the gun violence,” Collier said. “Gun violence will not be ended by one entity; one group can’t do it. It takes law enforcement, city administration, clergy, corporate work, community leaders and advocates, and it takes all of us working together to reach this town.”

In an emailed statement, Kenney’s office said the “administration, in partnership with all of our local and federal law enforcement agencies and community groups on the ground, continues to work relentlessly to reduce violence and create safer communities and a more just city for everyone. … We continue to believe there is no greater issue facing our city today than reducing violence. We have not yet turned the corner to reduce these preventable and premature deaths of Philadelphians and continue to be focused on working together to do so.”

The email pointed to the 2022 focus, the Roadmap for Safer Communities program.

“A Roadmap Tactical Group meets weekly to identify violence hotspots and to assign priorities,” according to the statement. “These meetings establish networks between community partners, law enforcement, and our agency leadership.”

Brian Saunders is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared

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