In Council News, Darrell L. Clarke, News by admin

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Philadelphia, PA – The following is a statement from Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District), as 2021 draws to a close with a record number of homicides and shootings, fueled by the ongoing crisis of gun violence in Philadelphia.

“2021 comes to a close tonight. A year that began with Philadelphia immersed in the COVID-19 pandemic ends with the city still battling a virus that has claimed more than 4,200 Philadelphia lives and infected over 200,000 residents.”

“However, there is another epidemic afflicting our city – a crisis of gun violence. As of Thursday night, gun violence has claimed 559 lives. Over 2,300 Philadelphians have been shot – 210 under the age of 18. More than 60 homicide victims were children or teens. No neighborhood is immune. More lives were lost to gun violence this year than any year in Philadelphia history. Every homicide, every shooting, leaves deep circles of trauma that grievously harm mothers, fathers, family, friends and neighbors.”

“Our city is not alone as it struggles with gun violence. Homicides are up in other cities. Experts believe the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused homelessness, business closures, job losses and other inequities, has contributed to the other epidemic of gun violence that plagues our cities. But our jobs as Councilmembers and elected officials are to come up with solutions to make communities safer, not offer excuses.”

“Philadelphia is awash in a flood of guns. Handgun sales doubled last year – nearly 26,000 handguns were bought citywide. Meanwhile, Philadelphia police have confiscated 5,540 crime guns in 2021 – 11 percent more than last year. The city is fighting in state court for the right to enforce our own lost or stolen handgun reporting law – a reform led by City Council. The city is also suing the state legislature for failing to enact stronger gun laws – another reform led by Council.”

“Law enforcement and every agency involved in public safety must coordinate and cooperate more with each other. Police arrested 2,255 people for illegally possessing a gun this year – 46 percent more than in 2019.  But gun case convictions by the District Attorney’s office have declined from 63 percent down to 49 percent. The DA’s office blames weaker cases brought by police, and witnesses who fail to appear for court. Meanwhile, the police clearance rate for homicides is 42 percent, and the clearance rate for all shootings is just 17 percent. Even our Police Commissioner says that is unacceptable. Our courts must play a role too in ensuring public safety, and consider the rights of victims of gun violence, as well as the accused. There is plenty of room for improvement at every stage of our criminal justice system – but it’s only possible when we stay focused on goals and stop finger-pointing.”

“As elected officials – the Mayor and City Council – we are all responsible for developing solutions that address this crisis. Council appropriated $155 million on public safety this year – including $16 million invested in neighborhood-based groups working to reduce gun violence. We approved funding for enhanced curfew centers to identify youths who need guidance and more opportunities. We allocated $25 million to a New Normal Initiative for jobs training programs, neighborhood revitalization, and anti-poverty measures to lift 100,000 people out of poverty. Council created a $400 million Neighborhood Preservation Initiative – the largest public investment in neighborhoods in city history. However, given the escalating crisis of gun violence, Council and the Mayor clearly must do more in 2022. Every budgetary decision that Council makes and laws it approves must target actual solutions to the urgent problems of gun violence, poverty and associated economic challenges that our neighborhoods face.”

“Academic studies show that when neighborhoods are cleaned and revitalized, it has an impact on lowering crime and violence. Children and adults should not be subjected on a daily basis to seeing abandoned lots, mountains of trash and debris that can make them feel their neighborhood does not matter. We also need to work in a much more coordinated way when it comes to using high-definition surveillance cameras to prevent crime, not just detect it. Every public agency that utilizes these cameras – from PHA to SEPTA to the School District to city police – should be part of an integrated system where cameras are monitored in real time to see incidents developing before violence occurs.”

“Our schools must be safe havens where children can learn, not places where arguments spark violence. We need more community centers in schools where families can go for support.  And, public officials cannot solve these problems alone. The business and university communities – led by a growing health-care sector – must reprioritize their efforts to hire more young people of color, giving them paths towards better lives. Organized labor – including the building trades – must diversify their ranks and give qualified candidates of color a chance to learn a trade and land family-sustaining jobs.”

“City employment efforts must be much more collaborative, with every initiative focused on providing opportunities for young people in our city who far too often feel abandoned and ignored. The Horticultural Society’s Same Day Pay and land management programs, the city’s Community Life Improvement Program, Licenses & Inspection efforts to improve neighborhoods – every employment effort must be laser-focused on providing more job opportunities for our young people.”

“The federal infrastructure legislation approved by Congress and President Biden will channel billions of dollars in aid to municipalities – including Philadelphia. This is a rare opportunity that may not come again. Every dollar must be focused on improving Philadelphia, but they also must be used to give young men and women in our neighborhoods a chance, an opportunity, to go to work, to make something of themselves, and in the process, make Philadelphia a healthier, safer city. That is how we can make 2022 a better year than the one that closes out tonight.”

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