COUNCILMEMBERS’ NEW ANTI-VIOLENCE PLAN CALLS FOR AT LEAST $50 MILLION INVESTMENT IN YOUNG PEOPLE

In Council News, Helen Gym, Isaiah Thomas, Jamie Gauthier, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Kendra Brooks, Kenyatta Johnson, Mark Squilla, News by PHL Council

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The plan meets demands made by young people in forums hosted by Council’s Committee on Children & Youth

PHILADELPHIA—Today, Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large) released the Youth Powered Anti-Violence Agenda, which calls for immediate major investments in trauma counseling, youth employment, expanded hours at rec centers and libraries, and other services concentrated in neighborhoods and schools with the highest rates of gun violence. The plan would be funded with at least $50 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan. It was crafted this Spring, in response to young people impacted by gun violence who demanded action from the City in forums hosted by Council’s Committee on Children & Youth, which cosponsored the report.

The full report can be found here.

Since January 2020, 822 young people under the age of 21 in Philadelphia have been injured or killed by gun violence — resulting in incalculable and continuing harm to them, their loved ones and their communities. If we also account for young adults under 30, this group experienced 1,898 shootings and 342 deaths in total during the same period. Data included in the report shows that these young people overwhelmingly live in just 10 zip codes, and most of those under 21 attended one of just 25 schools.

Since March, the Committee on Children & Youth has met with organizational and community leaders, held public hearings, and hosted roundtables and town halls to hear from young people about what they need to enact a Youth Powered Agenda against gun violence. The Committee reviewed the recommendations of a coalition of forty organizations calling for bold investment in more effective anti-violence efforts. They surveyed hundreds of community members and held two public townhalls focusing on the needs of students and school communities in the coming year, where we heard from dozens of speakers from across the city.

“Young people told us that their neighborhoods are in crisis, and demanded the City take immediate action to improve their lives,” said Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large). “Given the urgency of this moment, we cannot afford to adopt a proposed $343 million wage and business tax cut. We must instead invest in programs and services that will improve the lives of young people, prevent spiraling violence, and build a system where youth grow up knowing their lives are valued and their potential is limitless.”

Councilmember Gym was joined by Reverend Robert Collier, Reverend Mark Tyler, and Bishop Dwayne Royster of POWER and the Black Clergy of Philadelphia. They stood alongside youth advocates, school principals, and Councilmembers Jamie Gauthier (3rd District), Kendra Brooks (At-Large), Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District), Isaiah Thomas (At-Large), Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At-Large), and Mark Squilla (1st District).

“Our city’s stubborn gun violence crisis is terrorizing entire communities, and we as elected leaders must act,” said Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (3rd District). “We have a historic opportunity with the American Recovery Act to make meaningful investments in lifesaving initiatives. I hope we use this infusion of funds as an opportunity to reflect the fact that eradicating gun violence is a public safety priority, a public health priority, and a racial justice priority all wrapped up in one. I’m grateful to Councilmember Gym for her leadership on this vital issue, and to the many Philadelphians whose voices were instrumental in the creation of this plan.”

“Young people told us loud and clear: they feel ignored, and they need the City to build a strong support system,” said Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large). “Our city is suffering from a rise in gun violence, from lives lost and trauma inflicted on families and loves ones. For too long, we’ve tried to police our way out of problems caused by generations of divestment from largely Black and Brown working class communities. Today, we present an alternative. Instead of massive tax cuts for corporations and suburban commuters, we can meet the demands of our communities by investing in young people through new methods of public safety.”

“Philadelphians of all ages are telling me repeatedly that local government must do more things right away to have an immediate impact in reducing the violence in Philadelphia,” said Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District). “As Chairman of Philadelphia City Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention, I see that the COVID19 coronavirus isn’t the only crisis impacting our city. I support the ‘Youth Powered Anti-Violence Agenda,’ which would invest millions of dollars in Philadelphia’s Fiscal Year 2022 operating budget in trauma counseling, youth employment, expanded hours at recreation centers and libraries, and other services. In his Fiscal 2022 Operating Budget, Mayor Jim Kenney proposed significant increases in funding for anti-violence efforts. I commend Mayor Kenney for his initial investment, but I urge the mayor to invest more money in the budget to reverse the violence in our neighborhoods. Philadelphians have the chance in the upcoming City budget to invest in effective short-and-long-term solutions to bring peace on our streets.”

Out of school and with family members either out of work or endangered by COVID, children have had important relationships interrupted and have been exposed to immense stress and trauma. Young people told Councilmembers that they often felt brushed off by officials, and demanded major investments in a jobs guarantee, evening rec center hours, outreach and trauma counseling, affordable housing, violence interruption programs and non-police crisis response teams.

“When it comes to violence prevention in Philly, the people and especially youth most impacted should be at the center of prevention strategies,” said Shyara Hill, a Youth Advocacy Fellow at the Juvenile Law Center. “Our youth advocates are pushing for an independent youth ombudsman to help young people in the foster care system and other placements have a person to call if they experience violence and abuse as one way to reduce violence.”

“Who’s with us to take on this crisis? Specifically, who’s with us to protect and fight for young brown and Black lives?” said Le’Yondo Dunn, principal of Simon Gratz High School Mastery Charter. “We need our elected leaders to be bold and make tough decisions and our faith and community leaders to continue to stand strong. Thoughts and prayers are hollow without action.”

“The recommendations of the City Council Committee on Children and Youth are a vital and necessary step to help all of us support our youth and combat the trending violence,” said Milt Alexander, Deputy Superintendent at Camelot Schools. “Our greatest responsibilities are, not only education, to provide resources to help our youth be successful in life. Our youth want to be successful and are seeking balance.”

“The City and School District received a federal windfall to rebuild from the pandemic and without question children should be priority beneficiaries of these resources so they have unfettered access to the summer activities and after school enrichment we know is essential to their recovery!” said Donna Cooper, Executive Director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY).

“These recommendations shine a light on the direct correlation between gun violence, the social determinants of health, and access to basic needs,” said Kendra Van de Water, Executive Director of Youth Empowerment for Advancement Hangout (YEAH) Philly. “It is crucial that our budget reflects the same by funding things that people tell us they need, and funding places doing the real work with young people who need it most. YEAH Philly is very intentional about supporting holistic and sustainable solutions that benefit our young people in a real way, and this could be the beginning of more strategic efforts coming from our city government.”

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