32 Homicides in 22 Days: “We are in a State of Emergency”
On the first day of City Council’s 2020 Meetings, the relentless, rising tide of gun violence in Philadelphia was on most Councilmembers’ minds.
First, Council President Darrell Clarke (5th District) with five other Councilmembers, introduced a resolution calling for legal action – a lawsuit — against the Commonwealth for its failure to approve stronger gun laws.
Next, three veteran Councilmembers – Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District), Curtis Jones Jr. (4th District) and Derek Green (At Large) – introduced measures calling for hearings into different aspects of Philadelphia’s gun violence problem, from the impact of violence on victims, to the problems with Philly’s homicide clearance rate, to an examination of a grass roots group, #ManUpPHL, working on the problem.
But it was the words of first-term Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At Large) – in her first public floor speech as a member of Council – that got everyone’s attention.
“We are in a State of Emergency,” Gilmore Richardson said firmly when called on to speak for the first time. “Let me repeat: We are in a State of Emergency.”
Gilmore Richardson went on to say her cousin, John Rawls, was shot and killed in North Philadelphia last weekend. “He was homicide victim number 25,” she quietly said. Both the Council President and Majority Leader, Cherelle Parker (9th District), watched and listened intently, along with the rest of Council.
In the resolution introduced by Councilmember Jones on Council President Clarke’s behalf, Council indicated its plans to hire legal counsel to “file a lawsuit compelling the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to carry out its obligation to protect the citizens of Pennsylvania by enacting or authorizing municipalities to enact commonsense, constitutional legislation that addresses the public health crisis of gun violence.”
The resolution detailed the “ferocity” and “sheer volume” of gun violence in Philadelphia of late, including:
- 3 men shot to death in the first 15 hours of 2020
- 5 people shot in less than 30 minutes on one day – January 15
- A triple shooting Tuesday evening in the parking lot of a Target store on City Avenue in Wynnefield Heights
- 32 homicides in 22 days this month – an 82 percent increase over the same time period last January
- In 2019, the fatal shootings of 14 young people below the age of 18
“Enough, enough, enough,” a visibly angered Council President Clarke told a scrum of reporters after the resolution to sue the Commonwealth passed Council. “Desperate times call for desperate measures. The people in our neighborhoods are demanding that we do something about all this violence. So, we are.”
For Four Freshmen Members, a “first day of school”
There is a great deal of energy and anticipation around the incoming freshmen class of four new Councilmembers. Finally, Thursday, the buzz around their arrival gave way to their actual appearance, first session, and first remarks.
“First day of school,” one veteran member said in a friendly quip.
Councilmember Gilmore Richardson, in addition to her remarks about gun violence, introduced a resolution to amend the city’s Home Rule Charter calling for a civil service exam preference for any student graduating from a Career Technical Education program.
Councilmembers Jamie Gauthier (3rd District) and Isaiah Thomas (At Large) offered heart-felt remarks of thanks to the voters for electing them to Council, appreciation to other members for their welcoming them to Council, and earnestness in their desire to get to work. Thomas added thanks to Council’s Tech Staff for helping his office get acclimated to City Hall operations.
Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At Large), the first third-party member of City Council in the 100 years of Council’s modern governing structure, introduced a resolution to hold hearings on the topic of rent control. Brooks also said she hoped to serve as a “bridge” between the advocacy community that helped her win election and the city’s governing establishment.
A Flurry of other Legislation at Council’s 1st Session
Council hasn’t met in session since December 12th – six long weeks ago. As might be expected, the members – veterans and newcomers – came with arms full of proposed legislation and new issues Thursday. Here are quick takes on other legislation that arose:
A permanent Department of Labor. Councilmembers Helen Gym (At Large) and Bobby Henon (6th District) teamed up on legislation making the city’s Department of Labor a permanent city agency. Henon separately introduced legislation calling for paid family and medical leave for workers.
Mummers’ blackface controversy. Councilmember Cindy Bass (8th District) introduced legislation proposing $75 fines and a 5-year ban from the Mummers parade for any participants who wear blackface – an occurrence that marred this year’s parade and has happened in the past as well. The bill may raise First Amendment issues, but Bass indicated she is working with the Law Department.
Wage Tax Credit for Low-Income Workers. Councilmember Allan Domb (At Large) formally re-introduced his Wage Tax Credit bill for low-income workers to give them a break on their wage taxes, legislation designed to help lift these workers up out of poverty. Mayor Kenney pocket-vetoed this bill last month.
911 Call Center. Majority Leader Parker introduced a resolution to hold hearings regarding hiring, staffing, and retention challenges for the 911 Unified Call Center, and the impact these challenges have on the health and well-being of 911 dispatchers.
A Public Bank, and PICA’s Scheduled Termination. Councilmember Derek Green, the new chair of Council’s Finance Committee, introduced a resolution to hold hearings on the idea of creating a publicly-owned bank in Philadelphia, as well as hearings on the current plans to terminate the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority in 2023.
Homestead Exemption Increase. Another bill passed last month but pocket-vetoed by the mayor would increase the homestead exemption for property owners from $45,000 to $50,000. Councilmember Johnson re-introduced the bill.
Inside the Rail …
Journalists and public officials often joust, and exist in a state of creative tension. That is democracy and the First Amendment. Occasionally, though, a journalist comes along who is insightful in his reporting, but also respectful of elected officials and the role they play in governing.
One such journalist was Heshimu Jaramogi, a veteran media presence at City Hall and around the city for decades. Heshimu died last week. He was 67. At Council’s session, Councilmember Bass offered an eloquent tribute to her friend “Hesh.”
“We all know that we have lost a great warrior, a fighter for the people, a consummate professional, and our friend, Heshimu Jaramogi,” Bass said in floor remarks. “Heshimu was serious about his work, which was caring and looking out for the best interests of people — all people. He didn’t suffer fools. He understood the challenges our neighborhoods face and knew the critical urgency at hand. You’d better come at him and have yourself together or he’d get you together. He was firm, gentle and supportive all at the same time.”
Eloquent remarks for an eloquent man. Rest easy, Heshimu.
The next Stated Meeting of City Council will take place on Thursday, January 30th, at 10 a.m. in Council’s chamber on the 4th floor at City Hall.
Photos: Jared Piper/PHCouncil
Videos: PHLGovTV, PHLCouncil Tech Staff