Council members call on Kenney to boost anti-violence spending

Councilwoman Helen Gym speaks Tuesday, June 1, about a plan to dedicate $50 million in federal relief dollars to initiatives aimed at curbing youth gun violence.
PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

A group of City Council members led by Helen Gym is calling on Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration to use $50 million in federal relief dollars to combat youth gun violence.

Gym said the money should be targeted, offering expanded services, including guaranteed employment for young people and recreation centers open until midnight, in the neighborhoods with the highest number of shootings.

There is also a school component to the plan, released Tuesday, which would direct resources to the 25 public, charter and alternative schools most impacted by gun violence.

“We must reach our young people,” Gym said during a news conference at Hawthorne Recreation Center in South Philadelphia.

It’s not a policing approach to reducing crime, those who back the proposal said. Instead, it boosts trauma counseling, youth programming and affordable housing in the 10 zip codes with the most shootings — a majority of which are in North and West Philadelphia.

“We’ll never know how many lives we’ll save by giving young people something to do,” Councilman Isaiah Thomas told reporters. “There’s no data for that.”

In addition, the Council members support an effort to get the Kenney administration to devote an additional $100 million toward anti-violence programs.

Philadelphia has recorded 215 homicides since the start of the year, up 36%, and, of the more than 800 people shot in the city in 2021, 81 have been under the age of 18.

“If we don’t prioritize our young people, we will be dealing with this same issue 10 years from now,” Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said.

Council members and clergy who spoke at Tuesday’s briefing talked about the crisis as a social justice issue on par with the Black Lives Matter movement.

“This is Black and brown children getting killed, and, at the end of the day, the alarm would be sounding much louder if this was a different demographic of people,” Thomas said.

Councilman Isaiah Thomas speaks Tuesday, June 1, at a news conference calling on the city to use $50 million in federal relief funding on programs to decrease youth gun violence.PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Kenney’s spending plan for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, outlines nearly $36 million for non-police initiatives aimed at preventing violence, doubling the total spent in the current budget year.

His administration must reach a budget agreement with Council, which just finished up a series of fiscal hearings, in the coming weeks.

“Nothing is more important to the mayor and this administration than reducing gun violence and saving lives – especially the lives of innocent children,” Kenney spokesperson Deana Gamble told Metro.

She said Tuesday afternoon that Kenney’s office had not yet closely reviewed the 20-page plan, which was assembled in the aftermath of hearings conducted by Council’s Committee on Children and Youth.

However, many of the recommendations align with the city’s commitment to increase summer opportunities for young people, Gamble said.

“It’s a negotiation, and this is where we’re going to be working,” Gym said. “This is a unified effort by our City Council.

Several council members said $50 million is a pittance when looking at Kenney’s $5.2 billion budget proposal. They characterized the American Rescue Plan, from which Philadelphia is receiving $1.4 billion, as a historic chance to invest in community programs.

“The time is now for us to give $50 million, $100 million, $150 million, $200 million, $250 million, which is a drop in the bucket, to the young people who will take on these positions of leadership and responsibility when we are gone,” Councilwoman Katherine Gilmore Richardson said.

Planned cuts to the wage and business income and receipts taxes should be scrapped, Gym said, to help pay for the initiatives. The reductions would cost the city $343 million, according to her committee’s report.

Previous attempts at violence prevention have been “thin and wide,” Gym added, with a small amount of funding for a multitude of programs.

“This is not the same old, same old,” she said.