Barely a day after 21 people, most of them children, were gunned down in a Texas elementary school, a coalition of faith leaders and their allies gathered in the Capitol on Wednesday, where they called on state lawmakers to boost spending on gun violence prevention programs and public education.
The call, led by the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, came during a week in which a battery of interest groups appealed to state lawmakers to spend part of a massive budget surplus of at least $9 billion, on their causes. The Republican-controlled General Assembly and the Democratic Wolf administration have until midnight on June 30 to reach a deal on the spending plan for the new fiscal year that starts July 1.
“We will not go away. We are here for the long haul.” the Rev. Robert Collier Sr., the organization’s president said. “We will hold you accountable for the welfare of all Pennsylvanians.”
In January, Gov. Tom Wolf announced a $15 million increase, funded through American Rescue Plan money, for gun violence prevention grants awarded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the administration said in a statement.
The call by clergy on Wednesday, which would have been an ordinary part of the lead-up to approval of the 2022-23 state budget in June, took on an added poignancy with the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
The 18-year-old gunman, whom the Capital-Star will not identify, used an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle in his rampage. He had legally bought two such rifles just days before, soon after his birthday, authorities said, according to the Associated Press.
While the shootings in Texas, and one on May 14 at a grocery store in Buffalo that claimed the lives of 10 people, all of the Black, have commanded national attention, speakers Wednesday were quick to stress that such explosions of violence are a daily fact of life in Philadelphia and other Pennsylvania cities.
Philadelphia logged a nearly 48 percent increase in nonfatal shootings between 2019 and 2020. Pennsylvania saw 1,752 fatal shootings in 2020, a 13 percent increase from 2019, the Wolf administration said.
“This is out of control,” House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, said. “No matter how many moments of silence we have, no matter how many tweets we write, once we get to this Capitol, nothing changes … We will continue to fight.”
And no one should think themselves immune from the threat of violence, said the Rev. Dicie Gilmore, who lost her 18-year-old son to gun violence.
“It was me. But it could be you tomorrow,” she said. “You could walk out the door and you might get shot. Whatever I can do, I’m going to help.”
Sen. Vincent Hughes, of Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said majority Republicans are out of excuses, and cannot sit on the bulging surplus as they did last year.
“All we’re asking for, all we’re praying for, is that we make [things] right with the money that is there,” Hughes said. “It is provided to us to solve this problem right now.”
Referring to the disparities in public spending for Black and Brown communities, Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Philadelphia, noted that while all Pennsylvanians “went through the same storm,” during the pandemic and its related economic downturn, “we were not in the same boat.”
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