Hoping to stem the tide of gun violence engulfing the city, members of City Council and community groups across the city gathered Friday to begin drawing a strategic plan to combat the violence.
“My goal is to start a dialogue and plan of action between community stakeholders and government agencies and others,” said Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who hosted the first meeting of the Peace Not Guns Taskforce on Friday at City Hall. “We’ll put together a long-term action plan to reduce youth gun violence.”
At Tribune press time, 51 people had been murdered in Philadelphia since Jan. 1. Last year, there were 56 murders in the same period. The homicide total for 2011 was 324, up from 306 in 2010.
The meeting included representatives from council, state government, the courts and about 15 community groups.
Community members hold the key to ending what Johnson called a “public health epidemic.”
“We need to look at how we galvanize the community,” he said. “That’s critical, because if you get the community involved, and they take ownership of the issue of gun violence, I believe we will be more successful.”
Comparing Philadelphia to other cities that have drawn up similar plans, Johnson said he expected to have a strategic plan completed within the next two years.
“It’s not going to be an overnight solution,” he said.
The idea had the backing of many of Johnson’s council colleagues.
Council President Darrell Clarke and Majority Leader Curtis Jones both gave the effort their full support.
“I’m so happy the councilman has pulled this team together,” said Clarke.
Violence has long been factor of life in Philadelphia, Clarke said, remembering his own youth when gangs controlled different portions of the city — but noted that the introduction of guns has ratcheted up the stakes.
“This is a different ball game,” he said. “You don’t have to belong to a gang. You don’t have to do anything. You just have to exist, and you may get shot down. They’re off the chain out here.”
Jones said city legislators would be poring over the upcoming budget in an effort to find ways to combat violence.
“We will be looking at each budget line item, even though we know we have debts, to see if there are portions — whether it’s DHS or whether it’s public schools — to help solve this problem. It’s not one dimensional,” he said. “It won’t be a one dimensional solution.”
Tackling any issue in the city, he said, is going to get harder as the state continues to cut funding for many social services programs.
“We need to fight for the resources that we need,” Johnson said.
But, a lack of funds is no excuse, said state Sen. Anthony Williams.
“Not having money shouldn’t be a reason we’re not standing up,” Williams said, adding that he hoped city officials would coordinate with state and federal officials in an effort to find the necessary funds as plans moved forward.
Participants at Friday’s meeting were broken down into committees that will study several topics: violence among children and youth, public safety and gun control, parental support, communication and social media, community and social advocacy, public policy and mentorship.
Johnson founded a community group called Peace Not Guns in 1998 to combat gun violence. The organization creates programs aimed at stemming gun violence by giving young adults an alternative to the false images of the “street life” through mentoring forums, education and resources for job training and employment.