By John N. Mitchell
PHILADELPHIA — In what is becoming a regular occurrence as Philadelphia continues to grapple with escalating gun violence, yet another church opened its doors after the sun had set in an effort to address the problem.
On Tuesday, inside the First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, more than 100 concerned Northwest Philadelphia residents concerned with the surging violence gathered in a crowded room, with some taking turns addressing their issues and concerns to politicians, law enforcement officers and others.
“I come from the school that it takes a village to address this issue, so we’re bringing the village together to address this issue, to talk about ideas and to give specific information as to what local law enforcement is seeing and then try to come together with ideas that will help to address the needs,” said state Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D—201st.
“Gun violence is rampant throughout the whole city,” Kinsey continued. “What we’re doing in the Northwest is recognizing that there has been an increase. We’re bringing city and state law enforcement together. We’re bringing out nonprofits that have been working at the grassroots level to try to address this.”
Northwest Philly — which includes Germantown, Oak Lane and parts of Chestnut Hill — has seen a rise in homicides and shootings in recent years. Most of the area is within the jurisdiction of the 14th Police District. In 2019, the District saw a 62 percent increase in homicides, jumping from 16 in 20018 to 26 in 2019. In the same time span, shootings jumped from 79 in 2018 to 85 in 2019.
Last year, the city experienced its third increase in homicides in as many years. The 355 homicides in 2019 marked the most since 391 were killed in 2007. As of 12 a.m. Tuesday, there have been 50 homicides in the city, up 28 percent from the date last year (39). African-American men accounted for 73 percent of all homicide victims in 2019.
14th Police District Capt. Nicholas Smith said that his office is doing everything it can to stave off gun violence.
“But the truth of the matter is that this will work better if we are partners with the community,” Smith said. “That is what is most important — for us to work together.”
Kinsey convened last night’s “listening tour.” He was joined by other lawmakers such as fellow state Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia. Kinsey brought in other organizations such as SEPTA and the Pennsylvania State Police, both of which are looking to hire.
“We are actively recruiting people and we want to hire people of color,” said state police Lt. Robert Bailey. “We are not where we want to be in that regard.”
Bailey said that minorities and women make up just 13 percent of the 4,600-member state force. He said that getting more African Americans in the ranks “provides upward mobility. Upward mobility helps to remedy the crime that we are seeing.”
Last night was the first of what Kinsey said will be more community events focused on bringing the community in contact with lawmakers, stakeholders and prospective employers.
Last week, Christian Stronghold Baptist Church in West Philadelphia drew more than 400 concerned residents to a City Council hearing on anti-gun initiative #ManUpPHL. That meeting, facilitated by City Council’s Committee on Public Safety, drew nine members of Council and other stakeholders also concerned with the uptick in gun violence.
John N. Mitchell is a columnist and reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.