By Ayana Jones
PHILADELPHIA — In response to a recent uptick in shootings, city councilmembers are calling for a $50 million targeted investment in young people as part an anti-violence plan.
Members of the City Council Committee on Children and Youth unveiled Philadelphia’s youth powered anti-violence agenda during a press conference held Tuesday at the Hawthorne Recreation Center in South Philadelphia.
The plan comes as 822 school-aged youth in Philadelphia have been injured or killed by gun violence since January 2020.
“We know that most impacted Philadelphians experience their first traumatic moments of violence when they are children or young teens,’ said Councilmember Helen Gym, who chairs the Committee on Children and Youth.
“And that is why we are here today because we are committed as a city to no longer waiting until young people experience loss, or are injured, or are imprisoned or killed, leaving family members, friends, loved ones and communities or they themselves at such as young age to pick up the pieces on their own.
“Today we are calling on the City of Philadelphia to allocate a minimum of $50 million toward specific youth oriented efforts including guaranteed employment for young people in the top 10 zip codes most impacted by violence and at the 25 schools that are most impacted by gun violence,” Gym said.
The zip codes with the most shootings in 2020 include 19134, 19132, 19140, 19143, 19139, 19124, 19133, 19121, 19142 and 19131.
The agenda also calls for immediate major investments in trauma counseling, expanded hours at recreation centers and libraries, ensuring safe and secure housing, re-engaging youth who are disconnecting from school and unemployment, providing additional resources for the schools most impacted by gun violence and expanding evidence-based violence interruption programs and non-police crisis response teams.
The effort would be funded with at least $50 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan.
“This anti-violence agenda makes clear, we are here to target resources where they are needed the most,” Gym said.
Gym was joined by clergy, youth advocates, school administrators and Councilmembers Jamie Gauthier (3rd District), Kendra Brooks (At-Large), Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District), Isaiah Thomas (At-Large) and Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At-Large).
The agenda was crafted this spring in response to young people impacted by gun violence who demanded action from the City.
Gauthier said that the plan’s recommendations can have a transformative impact on this wave of bloodshed disproportionately affecting the city Black and brown youth.
“First and foremost we need new initiatives that focuses on addressing this crisis through a public health lens, rather than policing and law enforcement,” she said.
“We need to fund evidence-based violence prevention and conflict intervention efforts to stop the shooting before it starts. We need not just a job program and community programs but a robust outreach that works to meet our kids at highest risk where they are.”
“We need to address the massive amounts of trauma circulating in our communities because if it goes unaddressed it will only lead to more violence,” Gauthier continued.
Le’Yondo Dunn, principal of Mastery Simon Gratz High School addressed how gun violence has impacted some of his students and their families. He noted two months ago the school lost two students in a 24-hour time period and within that same week a recent alumnus was killed.
“It was a heart wrenching experience,” Dunn said.
“They were beautiful young people full of life and potential. Their lives mattered to me, to their families to their friends. They are not statistics and sadly that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are several other students and their families who have either been impacted by gun violence as the target or directly impacted as bystanders.”
He highlighted the importance of ensuring that resources are targeted to the areas in need.
“The violence that is taking so many of young people and devastating families is not equally distributed. We know the zip codes, we know the schools and the communities most impacted so that is where I could encourage us all to put our resources,” Dunn said. “We need to invest in solutions and the things that we know work and the people and the communities that need it the most and organizations that are effective.”
Johnson spoke about making the youth a priority and ensuring that they have constructive activities to engage in at the city’s recreation centers.
“If we don’t prioritize our young people we’ll be dealing with the same issue 10 years from now,” he said.
“We can’t take a law and order approach to address this issue because at the end of the day when you talk about mass incarceration those same people that you send to prison today they’re going to come back to these streets, so it starts with investing in young people.”
He said that the people being murdered on a day to day basis are getting younger and younger.
“If you don’t give our young people something constructive to do, they’ll going to find ways to get into something destructive,” Johnson said.
“If you want to tell a young person to put down a gun, what are you replacing it with? What type of job training opportunities do they have?”
“Most young people — they don’t want to be involved in a life of crime and violence — they just need a sense of hope,” he continued.
Rev. Robert Collier, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia, was on hand to express his support for the plan. The Black Clergy is advocating for a $100 million investment in community groups that are addressing gun violence.
“There is no one size fits all and no one group has all the answers,” Collier said.
“There are multiple approaches have to be taken including ensuring that those community groups that have proven track records for implementing programs that reduce and prevent gun violence are adequately funded.”
Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.