CITY COUNCIL APPROVES DRIVING EQUALITY LEGISLATION TO DETER RACIAL DISPARITIES IN POLICE TRAFFIC STOPS
By a 14-2 majority vote, City Council on Thursday approved Driving Equality legislation designed to deter and reduce disparate, unequal police practices in how minority motorists are stopped by police for minor offenses like broken tail lights and expired inspection stickers.
The legislation, created by Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (At Large), who worked closely with Philadelphia police, the Defenders Association, and the city Law Department in crafting the bill, is designed to significantly reduce car stops by police for minor infractions that advocates believe discriminate disproportionately against Black and Brown motorists.
Councilmember Thomas’s Driving Equality bills seek to address the tension between police and community members by removing negative interaction through minor traffic stops. These bills end the traffic stops that promote discrimination while keeping the traffic stops that promote public safety. This approach seeks to redirect police time and resources towards keeping Philadelphians safe while removing negative interactions that widen the divide and perpetuate mistrust. In addition to the historic nature of the legislation, this process brought all parties to the negotiating table to ensure that this civil rights issue is elevated without compromising on the safety and well-being of Philadelphia.
“I am grateful to my colleagues for voting to pass my Driving Equality bills,” Councilmember Thomas said, “but more so, I am humbled by every person who told my office of the humiliation and trauma experienced in some of these traffic stops. To many people who look like me, a traffic stop is a rite of passage – we pick out cars, we determine routes, we plan our social interactions around the fact that it is likely that we will be pulled over by police. By removing the traffic stops that promote discrimination rather than public safety, City Council has made our streets safer and more equitable. With this vote, I breathe a sigh of relief that my sons and my friends’ children will grow up in a city where being pulled over is not a rite of passage but a measure of the safety of your driving and vehicle, regardless of the skin color of the driver.”
The legislation was approved Thursday by a 14-2 vote, with Councilmembers Brian O’Neill (10th District) and David Oh (At Large), voting against it. Oh raised questions during a debate prior to the voting on whether the local legislation was pre-empted by the state Vehicle Code. However, Councilmember Derek Green (At Large), an attorney and former assistant district attorney in Philadelphia, elicited further details from Thomas stating that the Police Department and Law Department both worked on the legislation with Thomas’ staff, and both agencies signed off on its legality. The bills now go to Mayor Kenney for his consideration. He is expected to sign the legislation into law.
During last week’s Council session, Councilmember Thomas amended his bill to allow the Police Department 120 days for training and education before being implemented. In addition to the bill, which reclassifies motor vehicle code violations, City Council passed Councilmember Thomas’ data companion bill which mandates a public, searchable database of traffic stops. Data will be a major factor in analyzing the success or need for alterations to the Driving Equality bill.
“Data will tell us if we should end more traffic stops or amend how this is enforced,” Thomas said. “Data will also tell other cities that Philadelphia is leading on this civil rights issue and it can be replicated.”
KENNEY ADMIN ISSUES $2.2 MILLION IN COMMUNITY VIOLENCE PREVENTION GRANTS, AN INITIATIVE FUNDED BY COUNCIL
The Kenney administration announced a first set of grants on Thursday to community groups focused on gun violence prevention work in neighborhoods – the first actionable steps in a strategy created and funded by City Council during June budget negotiations with Mayor Kenney.
Five organizations will receive $2.2 Million in funding through the Anti-Violence Community Expansion grants announced this week. They are:
New Options More Opportunities (NoMo) — $1,000,000
NoMo will open its South Philadelphia Neighborhood Service location to expand its community-centered approach. NoMo will open an entry in adulthood housing to help combat youth homelessness, and provide rental assistance in a NoMo-leased apartment building.
ManUpPHL — $242,768
ManUpPHL is a mentoring program that serves men between the ages of 18 and 35 who are among the most likely to be affected by gun violence. In “Listening to the Streets”, a cohort of mentees participate in a series of sessions to uncover street-level truth about gun violence— the causes, effects, and solutions.
Every Murder is Real (EMIR) — $760,001
EMIR will maintain or reduce the 72-hour outreach time period to families and friends of homicide victims, providing trauma-informed care, and advise them of the services available during this period of intense grief. EMIR will hire and train four family/victims advocates.
Beyond the Bars — $117,150
Beyond the Bars began as a music program for youth who were incarcerated. Beyond the Bars believes it is pivotal to have accessible musical spaces for youths that connect them to larger, supportive communities. Beyond the Bars has built 11 musical labs throughout Philadelphia. Beyond the Bars will build eight full recording studios and run programs while training student leaders in neighborhoods affected by gun violence.
Uplift Workforce Solutions — $150,000
Uplift Workforce Solutions program is designed to provide formerly incarcerated and otherwise justice-involved individuals an opportunity to gain long-term employment through the remediation of negative thought patterns, poor decision making and unhealthy habits, and directly place them into the workforce.
In June, Council and Mayor Kenney announced a $22 Million investment in community-based violence prevention grants. This group of five awardees are the first grants from this process. More applicants are being screened now by administration anti-violence officials for further grant decisions.
“As we continue to seek solutions to address the gun violence crisis in Philadelphia, the City is acting with urgency to invest in anti-violence initiatives that both address the immediate crisis and tackle the systemic, root causes of violence,” said Mayor Kenney. “I’m proud that—through our partnership with City Council—we’re investing directly in organizations that can help make our communities safer and save lives.”
“We’re glad to see this first round of grants as part of the community-based program to reduce gun violence which was created by City Council in June,” said Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District). “We need a broad-based approach to reducing this unacceptable level of gun violence. We need law enforcement at every level, working collaboratively, and we need community-based groups who know their neighborhoods and know how to reach the individuals driving this cycle of violence.”
“The level of gun violence we experienced in Philadelphia in 2020 and continues so far in 2021 is unacceptable,” said Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District), Chairman of Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention. “Congratulations to the first five organizations to receive these grants with more to be announced in coming weeks. The Anti-Violence Community Partnership Grants are part of a paradigm shift in how city government will fight gun violence and fund community groups dealing with these issues.”
COUNCILMEMBER GAUTHIER JOINS WEST PHILADELPHIA COMMUNITY TO DEMAND PRESERVATION OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (3rd District) Thursday stood with West Philadelphia residents, community leaders, and elected officials to demand justice for residents of the University City Townhomes at 40th and Market Streets, who have received notice that they will be displaced from their homes by July 8, 2022. The Councilmember shared details on legislation she introduced last month that intends to preserve this location for affordable housing well into the future.
“When thousands of Black Bottom residents were displaced as part of the University City urban renewal project back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a commitment was made to the residents of West Philadelphia that the University City Townhomes site would be dedicated to low-income housing for generations to come,” said Councilmember Gauthier. “The legislation I’ve introduced aims to ensure that this promise is kept. Eradicating affordable housing on this site would be a grave injustice to the former residents of Black Bottom – who have already been displaced from this land once before – and to the 70 families who live here now.”
Earlier this year, the owner of the University City Townhomes notified the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that they would not be renewing their affordable housing contract, instead opting to sell the property by the end of the year. Councilmember Gauthier’s new bill proposes a ban on any demolition on the University City Townhomes site for 12 months, as well as a zoning change – to RMX-3, with a requirement that apartments be built at 20 percent of average median income for the region – that would uphold the affordable housing commitment first made on the site more than half a century ago.
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IN OTHER NEWS…
Councilmember Oh Urges City to Post $20,000 Reward Leading to Arrest of Arsonist in Attack on Activist’s Kensington Home. Last month, anti-drug activist Sonja Brigham experienced a firebomb attack on her home in Harrowgate, a neighborhood inside Kensington. Councilmembers Mark Squilla (1st District) and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez (7th District) stood up on a Friday evening with Ms. Brigham and city police, vowing to not allow the attack on a community activist to go unsolved and unpunished. In Council on Thursday, Councilmember David Oh, went further, urging the city to post a $20,000 reward for any information leading to an arrest in the case.
Councilmember Resolution Expresses Appreciation for Multiple Faith-Based Institutions for their Work during COVID-19 Pandemic. Councilmember Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District) introduced a resolution that was approved by Council this week, thanking many faith-based institutions for their relief work during the pandemic. Jones resolution highlighted the work of a Baptist church in Wynnefield, a Muslim house of worship in West Oak Lane, a Jewish synagogue in Center City, among many other places of worship, thanking them for food distribution drives, making their facilities available for COVID-19 vaccinations and testing, and other services to residents who needed them during the 19-month-long pandemic.
OTHER SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM THE COUNCIL WEEK
PHILADELPHIA FACTS AND FIGURES
The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, October 21, 2021 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.
Featured Photo: Elevated Angles for Visit Philadelphia