CITY COUNCIL AND CITY OFFICIALS ANNOUNCE LAWSUIT AGAINST COMMONWEALTH, GENERAL ASSEMBLY OVER FIREARM PREEMPTION LAW
As the city’s grim tide of homicides, shootings and victims from gun violence continues to swell, City Council stood this week with Mayor Kenney, victims of gun violence and a team of lawyers to announce a major new legal action against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and General Assembly over their utter failure to act to prevent homicides and shootings across the state.
Standing outside a city recreation center in Germantown, steps from the scene of three fatal shootings over the last 18 months, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, joined by nine fellow Council members, announced the lawsuit, filed Thursday in state Commonwealth Court.
“The simple reality is what we’re asking for from the Commonwealth is completely reasonable,” Clarke said on Wednesday, outside the Happy Hollow Recreation Center on Wayne Avenue.
“Harrisburg, we need help,” said Councilmember Cindy Bass (8th District), whose district includes Germantown. “We need help from you. The people who died in Philadelphia? Lest you forget, they are Pennsylvanians.”
Councilmember Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District), compared the city’s high homicide rate to Americans who have died in Afghanistan.
“In all of 2019, 22 soldiers died in Afghanistan,” Jones said. “Twenty-two — that’s a bad weekend in the city of Philadelphia.”
Homicides in Philadelphia reached 368 by Wednesday night – more than all of last year, with nearly three months yet to come. Shootings are up 56 percent, and 1,610 people have been shot this year, 47 percent more than last year.
The unrelenting carnage led Council to partner with a public-private partnership of attorneys from the city Law Department, the Public Interest Law Center, and Hogan Lovells LLC, along with individual plaintiffs who have lost loved ones to gun violence, and file a suit with several legal theories.
The lawsuit takes direct aim at the Firearm Preemption Laws in Pennsylvania, which prohibit cities like Philadelphia or Pittsburgh or any other municipality from enacting their own, local gun laws which are demonstrated to save lives.
“By enacting and continuing to ratify the Firearm Preemption Laws, the General Assembly has increased gun violence in these municipalities, and they have affirmatively endangered the lives, health and safety of the Individual Petitioners”, the lawsuit states, adding, “In creating and perpetuating this danger of their own making, Respondents have violated the inherent and indefeasible right to enjoy and defend life and liberty under Article 1, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.”
The lawsuit asks Commonwealth Court to declare that Respondents in state government have violated Pennsylvanians’ right to life under the PA Constitution, and to vacate the Firearm Preemption Laws so that Philadelphia and other municipalities may implement sensible, lawful measures to prevent gun violence.
Mayor Kenney and City Council were joined at the news conference by the three legal teams that prepared the case, along with three parents who have lost sons to gun violence in Philadelphia, Stanley Crawford, Tamika Morales and Cheryl Pedro.
“This is my son!” pleaded Ms. Morales, holding up a poster of her son, Ahmad Morales, 24, who was gunned down in the Point Breeze section of South Philadelphia over the Fourth of July weekend. “I’m here because I do not want any other mother to go through what I go through every day.”
“Gun violence is taking an enormous toll on Pennsylvanians,” said Mimi McKenzie, Legal Director at the Public Interest Law Center. “Young Black and Brown men are killed with handguns in numbers that shock the conscience. The General Assembly has been confronted with this evidence for years, but refuses to consider sensible measures that public health research and the experience of nearby states demonstrate would save lives. At the same time, the General Assembly preempts local governments from stepping in and enforcing gun safety measures. These firearm preemption laws violate the constitutional rights of the Petitioners.”
To underscore the gravity of the city’s gun violence problem, overnight Thursday, a man allegedly carjacked a motorist’s car, shot and killed her, and then engaged in a gun battle with police, who fatally shot him. This latest violent outburst happened less than a half mile from the playground where City Council, the mayor and the victims and lawyers announced their lawsuit.
COUNCILMEMBERS RAISE FURTHER ISSUES ON GUN VIOLENCE AND POLICING DURING THE STATED MEETING
A day after the lawsuit’s filing, Council members remained focused on the gun violence issue during their weekly Meeting, held remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councilmember Derek Green (At Large), delivered thoughtful remarks, connecting up the lawsuit’s filing, along with Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District)’s proposed question on the November ballot to change the Home Rule Charter to create an Office of Victim’s Advocate. Green called the lawsuit “another piece of hope in addressing the gun violence epidemic” in Philadelphia, and stressed the need for a city office solely focused on advocating for victims and survivors of violence.
Councilmember Jones echoed Green’s remarks, and highlighted a ballot question that he is championing, which would create a Citizens Police Advisory Commission to create a stronger, citizen-led voice in examining police misconduct allegations.
Councilmember Johnson concurred with his colleagues and their focus on the epidemic of violence in Philadelphia. He noted a recent case in which young men in Bucks County were purchasing multiple guns – for illegal transfers on the streets of Philadelphia.
Council President Clarke, who rarely comments during sessions, weighed in following his colleagues’ passionate remarks: “It isn’t just happening in North Philly, or West Philly or South Philly. It’s happening everywhere. Priorities matter.”
COUNCILMEMBER GYM INTRODUCES LEGISLATION TO BAN THE CITY’S USE OF TEAR GAS, RUBBER BULLETS
One day following a Council committee hearing that heard from dozens of city residents and demonstrators who were met with tear gas and rubber bullets fired by city police during the May and June unrest in Philadelphia following George Floyd’s murder, Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large) proposed legislation that would permanently ban the city’s use of tear gas, rubber bullets, or other less lethal devices.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw had already declared a moratorium on the use of tear gas, but Councilmember Gym’s legislation would permanently bar its use by city law enforcement on “any individual engaging in First Amendment activities,” such as demonstrating, speechmaking, marching, holding vigils or similar protected conduct.
Gym’s proposed legislation was co-sponsored by all members of Council’s Public Safety Committee, which hosted the previous night’s hearing.
SEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA…
As the youngest member of @PHLCouncil, I was proud to bring the youngest guest to today’s session.
— Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (@CMThomasPHL) October 8, 2020
IN OTHER NEWS…
Councilmember Allan Domb Bill Protects Homeowners from ‘Cash for Homes’ Solicitations. Councilmember Domb (At Large) introduced legislation that would provide protections to homeowners from solicitation and related problems by regulating the practices of residential property wholesalers.
The legislation amends the city’s code under Protections Against Unlawful Discrimination and establishes enforcement regulations for businesses and individuals who might try to take advantage homeowners with quick cash payments or other enticements. The bill would require all entities to obtain a Residential Property Wholesaler License in order to conduct business in the city.
“The purpose of this bill is to protect homeowners from becoming victim to wholesale buying practices that have been occurring for far too long in some of our most vulnerable neighborhoods,” said Councilmember Domb. “The city needs to hold individuals and businesses accountable for their actions and ensure fair practices are in place at all times.”
Councilmember Johnson offered support for Domb’s legislation, noting the issue is a real problem in gentrifying sections of his district in South Philadelphia.
Councilmember Gilmore Richardson Offers Resolution Setting out Process to Hold Hearings into Changes in City’s Contracts with FOP and Other Unions The resolution, by Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At Large), authorizes City Council’s Committee of the Whole to hold all hearings required by Bill No. 200364-A, which established a requirement that the Council hold hearings in connection with anticipated collective bargaining agreements between the City and the Fraternal Order of Police.
OTHER SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM THE COUNCIL WEEK
Committee on Parks Recreation and Cultural Affairs, held 10-2-2020
Committee on Finance, held 10-5-2020
Committee on Commerce and Economic Development, held 10-6-2020
Committee on Public Safety (ATVs), held 10-7-2020 at 9:30am
Committee on Public Safety (Police Response to Protests), held 10-7-2020 at 4:30pm
Stated Meeting of Philadelphia City Council, held 10-8-2020
NEXT WEEK IN PHILADELPHIA CITY COUNCIL
Monday, October 12. 2020
Columbus Day – All City offices closed.
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Committee on Public Health and Human Services 9:30am
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Committee on Labor and Civil Service, 1:00pm
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Stated Meeting of Philadelphia City Council, 10:00am
Committee on the Environment, 2:30pm
Friday, October 16, 2020
Committee on Streets and Services, 10:00am
PHILADELPHIA FACTS AND FIGURES
The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, October 15, 2020 at 10 a.m. The Meeting will be held remotely due to the ongoing pandemic, and will air on Xfinity Ch. 64, Fios Channel 40 and stream at www.PHLCouncil.com/watch.