By Kenyatta Johnson
I’d like to express my deepest condolences to the victims and the families of those killed in Philadelphia in 2021. I think about our murder victims every day. According to the Philadelphia Police Department, more than 560 people were murdered in Philadelphia in 2021 and at least 2,300 people were shooting victims.
Philadelphia’s 2021 murder rate easily surpassed our all-time record of 503 people murdered in 1990 and has passed the 499 homicides that happened in 2020. This is not a record any city leader or Philadelphia resident should be proud of. Reducing gun violence in Philadelphia should be the number one priority for all city leaders in 2022. There are at least 560 families who have lost a loved one in 2021 and that is totally unacceptable! I remain committed to doing everything in my power to reduce the homicide rate in our city in 2022.
We remain in a full-on crisis as our city enters 2022 when it comes to gun violence in Philadelphia. Gun violence is widespread and relentless. In 2021, our city saw an increase in murder victims who were women and children. The overwhelming number of victims who were shot or killed by gunfire in Philadelphia in 2021 were Black.
I am the founder and chair of City Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence, but I’m also a lifelong Philadelphian, husband and father of two children. Before I became an elected official, I was a gun violence prevention advocate, inspired to speak out by the death of my cousin. I lived through the crack epidemic. I have never seen gun violence as bad as it was in 2021.
One thing that I think will help play a role in reducing violence in Philadelphia for years to come will be the opening of the Philadelphia Office of Victim Advocate sometime in 2022.
The new Philadelphia Victim Advocate would offer a hub for crime victims, survivors and others affected by crime. The office’s functions would include coordination, planning, and oversight with a special emphasis on serving victims and co-victims of gun violence and other forms of homicide. I am the main sponsor of the bill creating the Philadelphia Office of Victim Advocate.
I believe that we owe it to victims and co-victims to give them a voice within city government. The new Office of the Victim Advocate is long overdue in Philadelphia.
In the near future, I will be requesting a meeting with all law enforcement leaders in Philadelphia, including the Philadelphia Court and Philadelphia Adult Probation and Parole Department, to get an update on their plans to reduce gun violence in 2022.
In 2022, I think Philadelphia must also do some of the following things to move our city forward towards the goal of reducing the homicide rate:
- Community violence intervention programs are an essential component of any gun violence prevention strategy. In the fiscal Year 2021 budget, my Council colleagues and I successfully advocated for more money for a community violence prevention grant program to go directly to community organizations. I’m glad to report that the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Violence Prevention has given out more than $15 million to organizations citywide. But we still must do more and we must do so boldly and decisively.
- We must do a better job investing in prevention services that will provide opportunities for young people to not get involved in gun violence in the first place. We must be laser-focused by investing in violence prevention to provide opportunities for youth as opposed to a life of crime and violence.
- I will push for at least a total of $250 million to be spent in the Fiscal Year 2022 operating budget for overall anti-violence efforts throughout Philadelphia. Two-hundred-and-fifty million is a small amount of the City of Philadelphia’s $5 billion operating budget every year.
- The City of Philadelphia must work in a collaborative effort with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; FBI; Pennsylvania Attorneys General’s Office; Pennsylvania State Police; and local law enforcement agencies to get a better idea of where all of these illegal guns flooding the streets of Philadelphia are coming from and come up with effective ways to crack down on the illegal guns.
Philadelphia did not reach this all-time, one-year homicide record overnight and the problems facing our city will take time to see a dramatic reduction in the homicide rate.
I am confident that if everyone in Philadelphia — elected officials, law enforcement, the court system, the District Attorney’s office and Philadelphians — works together and does everything within our power to stop the devastation of lives on our streets, our homicide rate will go down in 2022. Enough is enough. We must do better as a city and will do better in 2022.
Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, a former state representative, represents the Second District, which includes parts of Center City, South Philadelphia and Southwest Philadelphia. He is the chairman of Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention and vice-chair of Council’s Public Safety Committee.