The Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity has laid out a multifaceted plan to combat the gun violence plaguing the city.
The plan comes as more than 100 people have been killed in Philadelphia so far this year.
Rev. Gregory Holston, chairman of the Criminal Justice Reform and Violence Prevention Committee for the clergy group, said the epidemic of gun violence is spreading like a virus.
“It’s spreading to our children and our young people who are picking up the habits and the culture and the anger and the hostility that is happening in their own community and they are picking it up and spreading it, one to another,” he said during a news conference at Janes Memorial United Methodist Church.
“We have to intervene early in their lives to be able to make sure that we stop the spread of this virus. Those who are engaged in this violence right now, we need to do things to restore them, to transform them, to change their lives and give them hope.
“So much of the murder and the destruction is coming from a sense of hopelessness, and it’s up to us to give our children the hope that they need,” Holston continued.
One-third of the shooting victims this year have been under the age of 18, a sharp increase from last year.
With that in mind, the Black clergy group has made four recommendations to help stem the violence.
One recommendation calls for the organization to work with City Council, District Attorney Larry Krasner, Mayor Jim Kenney, and state and federal elected officials to create a public-private partnership to raise $100 million for grassroots organizations that are offering community-based violence solutions.
The clergy group also recommended that Kenney appoint a czar or deputy mayor delegated to comprehensively addressing violence eradication. Holston said the czar should be empowered to convene all municipal government and city officials responsible for public safety.
The organization also urged officials to fight in Harrisburg for city schools to be fairly funded. Holston noted that Gov. Tom Wolf has put in his budget a fair funding formula that would give Philadelphia an additional $400 million a year for its schools.
“If we want to change gun violence in our community, it also starts with bettering our schools,” Holston said. “Let’s fight for fair funding for our schools and make a difference for our children.”
The Black clergy group also called for the development of a Philadelphia Marshall Plan to rebuild the city, which was impacted economically after losing thousands of factory jobs. The initiative would be patterned after the Marshall Plan developed by the U.S. to rebuild Europe after World War II.
Holston was flanked by other clergy leaders, elected officials and leaders of grassroots organizations as he outlined the organization’s recommendations.
City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, D-3rd District, hailed the Black clergy group’s plan to address gun violence and honed in on how the crisis is impacting children and teens.
“Experts are contributing this disturbing spike in violence to the pandemic, and similar to the pandemic we need to treat the gun violence crisis like the health crisis that it is,” she said. “This means implementing evidence-based programs that focus on violence prevention, violence intervention, and victim services because also like COVID, gun violence is contagious.”
The city is seeing a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to COVID, Gauthier said, but the communities experiencing increased rates of gun violence remain under siege, day in and day out.
“This is a public health emergency, a public safety priority and a racial justice all wrapped up in one and this is no simple fix and while we most definitely need to address the long-term root causes of this violence, our communities cannot wait,” Gauthier said.
“We need immediate action to stop the bloodshed and to bring much-needed relief to our communities, so that’s why I am so grateful that the Black clergy is rolling out this framework to end gun violence and I cannot agree more with the emphasis that they placed on intercepter collaborations to move the needle,” she said. “That means the religious, public, philanthropic, cultural and business communities coming together, pooling their knowledge and resources and agreeing that this needs to be a top priority for our city, but it’s up to our city government to meet the Black clergy on this ambitious plan.”