“(It) has been said that an emergency declaration would allow for a more coordinated response to gun violence. The reality is that our Administration has been working to address violence in a coordinated fashion for several years,” Kenney wrote, adding that “a disaster or emergency declaration would have no discernible impact on strengthening what is already a highly collaborative and innovative approach to addressing this public health crisis.”
His response comes amid an exceptionally violent stretch in July. In the first 18 days of the month, 185 people have been shot, according to police statistics.
Shootings and homicides were already increasing in Philadelphia before the pandemic struck in the spring of 2020. Since then, gun violence has soared in cities across the country.
In Philadelphia, 2,200 people were shot last year, and 499 died by homicide, one short of the highest total in the city’s history. This year may set the record, with 304 homicides and 1,264 shootings already recorded.
And Gauthier’s district continues to be at the epicenter of the surge. On the Fourth of July, two people were killed and two more were shot at a cookout. On Saturday evening, a 1-year-old was shot by a stray bullet as her mother was shopping at a store at 50th Street and Haverford Avenue.
If the Kenney administration started taking the violence seriously, Gauthier said, it would immediately increase support for violence-interruption programs, seek to broker truces between feuding street groups, increase spending on trauma services that can help reduce retaliatory violence, and bolster rec center programming and staffing to provide alternatives for young people. While the city is working toward many of those goals, Gauthier said it is not going far enough.
“I’m asking for our city to have all of the agencies focused on gun violence, to have all of our agencies working together around this problem, and I’m asking for a much higher level of accountability and transparency,” she said.
Violence-prevention activists like Jamal Johnson have long called on the mayor to declare gun violence a citywide emergency, saying it would allow for better collaboration among departments and send a signal the administration is taking the problem seriously.
Johnson, who has gone on hunger strikes to get Kenney’s attention, said Monday that the decision “reflects the mayor’s insensitivity” to the issue.
”I can’t believe he thinks he’s done all he can,” Johnson said.
He pointed to how the city dealt with the opioid overdose crisis in 2018, when Kenney declared a disaster in Kensington and established a dedicated operations center.
”This is extremely sad and disappointing,” Johnson said Monday evening. “He’s telling the citizens he’s given up.”
(Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Chris Palmer contributed to this article.)©2021 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit at inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.