Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw held the city’s first anti-violence briefing on Wednesday night, kicking off a series of bi-monthly updates on violent crime that had been proposed in January 2019.
The briefing comes on the heels of an extremely violent week which topped the record-high homicide rates seen over the past year. Since 2017, murder cases have steadily increased in Philadelphia, only to rise even faster during 2020 and 2021.
Public briefings were agreed upon in January of 2019 as part of the Philadelphia Roadmap to Safer Communities, but have begun only now as calls for action have risen alongside the violence. The meetings will be open to the public with an option to register for comment online.
Mayor Kenney, who has spoken on the importance of this issue with a focus on illegal weapons which are often connected to these cases, addressed the attendees on Wednesday night.
“We need some help,” Kenney said. “Not only from the state, but from the federal government potentially, to slow the flow and availability of weaponry.”
Philadelphia requires additional permits to own firearms, but the city often can’t create more restrictions because it must follow state regulations. Participants in the town hall still voiced a desire for more action at the local level. Beyond a promise of updates to the Roadmap, no new legislation aimed at reducing gun violence was unveiled at the meeting.
“I don’t have any major announcements on policy changes today,” Kenney said.
The next speaker was Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, who outlined her desire to improve conditions in the city and bring an end to rising homicide rates. She particularly stressed the importance of youth engagement, community activism, and the relationships between the police department and community residents in combatting the crisis. She also promised to unveil an updated version of the 2019 Roadmap at the next briefing.
“We will not take a passive stance on what’s going on here in Philadelphia,” Outlaw said. “We are all responsible for what goes on here. This is our community, and these are our children.”
Many city councilmembers also have spoken on the importance of dealing with violence since the crisis began to grow. Also speaking at the briefing was Councilmember Allan Domb, who previously held a virtual public safety town hall with Commissioner Outlaw to discuss the issue on Tuesday night.
“In addition to COVID-19, we’re fighting another epidemic: gun violence,” Domb said. “It’s the primary contributor to Philadelphia’s increasing homicide rate that’s already up 30 percent over last year; more than double the rate from just five years ago. There were almost 500 homicides last year. That statistic is unimaginable, beyond alarming, and unacceptable for our city.”
The timing of the briefing is partially attributed to a conversation Kenney had with activist Jamal Johnson, who carried out a hunger strike outside City Hall for 26 days. In February, Johnson asked Kenney to recognize a September resolution adopted by the City Council calling on Kenney to address gun violence. In a conversation with Johnson, Kenney said he would.
“I want to officially recognize the resolution,” Kenney said at the time. “I want to acknowledge it and I want to pledge the work to do what we can to fulfill the resolution and to get this gun violence under control and to keep young people from being killed.”
Gun-violence prevention activists say that this briefing is a step in the right direction, but that more needs to be done to address the full scope of the problem. Pulitzer Prize-winning local journalist Jim MacMillan, who founded the Philadelphia Center for Better Gun Violence Reporting, has repeatedly said that the issue of gun violence is a public health crisis which extends far beyond city officials and the police department. In a recent interview, MacMillan spoke about how more voices need to be included in this conversation.
“Most of the research community; those in interdisciplinary research, including criminal justice, view gun violence primarily as a public health crisis,” MacMillan said. “Shootings are not primarily a criminal law enforcement, criminal justice issue, obviously they’re important facets, but if you want the full story, you have to hear from a public health researcher and epidemiologist, an economist, a science communications scholar, a community activist, and others.”
The next public update will be March 31 at 6:00 PM. The meeting will be held online here.