By John N. Mitchell
PHILADELPHIA — As more than 400 Philadelphians — including all 17 members of City Council — packed the sanctuary of Christian Stronghold Baptist Church in West Philadelphia for an anti-gun violence hearing, the stories they told showed how pervasive the problem is in Philadelphia.
Stanley Crawford, of the Black Male Community Council, an organization of Black men committed to making safer streets, recounted how the 2018 execution-style murder of his 35-year-old son, William Crawford, a father of five children, inspired him to found the organization.
Newly-elected Councilwoman Katherine Gilmore Richardson responded by telling the audience how her cousin, John Rawls, last month became the city’s 25th homicide victim.
West Philadelphia Councilman Curtis Jones told how as a young man one of his best friends was shot and killed while walking right beside him in the Wynnefield section of the city, and South Philadelphia Councilman Kenyatta Johnson talked about how the violent deaths of friends while growing up in the Point.
“It is an issue that we are all grappling with,” at-large Councilman Derek Green said. “It is at the top of a lot of people’s agenda because of the number of homicides that we’ve had last year, the year before that and with the rash of shootings we’ve had so far this year. It’s very serious.”
The hearing, convened by City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, lasted for about 2½ hours.
State Sens. Vincent Hughes and Anthony Williams, City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart and Sheriff Rochelle Bilal attended.
The hearing focused on the work being done by #ManUpPHL, the organization started last year by WURD radio host Solomon Jones. The goal of #ManUpPHL is to bring together the various anti-violence groups in order to address the issue on various levels with an emphasis on mentoring, accountability, resources and consistency.
Leaders of different organizations talked about what they have been doing to fight gun violence and asked city officials to provide more funding for their efforts.
Last year, the city experienced its third increase in homicides in as many years. The 355 homicides in 2019 marked the most since 2007, when 391 were killed. As of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, there have been 44 homicides in the city — up 26% from the same day last year. African-American men accounted for 73% of all homicide victims in 2019.
Jones opened the meeting by talking about community organizations that fought gang violence in the 1970s, such as the House of Umoja and the Crisis Intervention Network. He also spoke of how Rev. Leon Sullivan through OIC provided jobs that helped take young people off the streets and put them to work.
“The answers have always come from ordinary people who have stood up and said ‘enough is enough,'” Jones said. “And when 2-year-old babies are dying who haven’t even lived yet, enough is enough.”
Many of the organizations represented described the work they are doing in different areas in an effort to draw young African-American boys and men away from gun violence. Many pointed to the city’s $439 million surplus for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, according to Philadelphia’s Annual Financial Report, as a potential funder for more grassroots anti-gun violence programming.
Joel Wilson, CEO of TechCore2 and president of 100 Black Men of Philadelphia, said that the infrastructure is in place for many of the organizations but that may of the organizations need more resources.
“ManUp has paired together all of these organizations that have the capacity to do this work,” Wilson said. “What is needed are the financial resources and the political clout that will allow these doors to be opened. We have the framework in place; they need funding.”
John N. Mitchell is a columnist and reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.