Not long ago, Joe Budd asked a group of 12 students at Martin Luther King Jr. High School whether they regularly carried guns.
Seven said they did, according to Budd, explaining that they would rather be caught with a firearm than without one.
The draw of the streets begins at a young age — Budd said he was enticed to hang out on the block at age 12. He now works with Men Who CARE of Germantown, an organization that conducts anti-violence programming at schools in Northwest Philadelphia.
In 2020, Philadelphia recorded 499 homicides, a near-record, and shootings have continued to rise in the first weeks of this year. Through Sunday, there had been 36 people killed in the city, compared to 34 on Jan. 24 last year.
A total of 158 people have been shot in 2021, a 61% jump over this time last year, according to data from the Philadelphia Police Department.
District Attorney Larry Krasner, during a news conference Monday, blamed the cash bail system, the COVID-19 pandemic and lax gun laws for the troubling trends.
“There’s no question that what we’re dealing with here is very closely linked to the pandemic,” Krasner said, citing trends in other cities showing rising numbers of homicides.
The DA said he believes there will be fewer shootings once more people can receive the coronavirus vaccine.
Krasner has often had to defend his office’s policies, which some, particularly conservatives, have criticized for being too easy on suspects.
He said prosecutors requested $1 million bail for Josephus Davis, the 20-year-old suspect charged with the fatal shooting of Brewerytown dog walker Milan Loncar earlier this month.
Davis, who was arrested and charged with kidnapping and robbery while on probation, had his bail lowered in December, from $300,000 to $32,000. He paid 10% of that amount and was freed two weeks before Loncar’s killing.
“The cash bail system fails to keep in that small group of people who present such a danger to society that they should be in custody before trial,” Krasner said Monday. “And on the other hand, it incarcerates people who are not a danger to the community but are flat out too broke to pay a low bail.”
Last week, the DA’s office brought 123 gun-related cases, Krasner said. For charges involving the illegal possession of a gun, the median bail was $100,000, and it was $125,000 for violent offenses with a firearm, he said.
Krasner said Philadelphia is “soaked” in guns due to Pennsylvania’s less restrictive gun regulations. New York City is safer, he argued, because of tighter state laws.
City Councilwoman Kendra Brooks, who spoke alongside Krasner, said the community, government and law enforcement need to come together to put a real emphasis on gun violence.
“For me, daily, at least weekly, my children talk about losing a friend,” Brooks said. “We need to treat this crisis like the threat it is. It’s an epidemic that is traumatizing generations of Black and brown communities.”
Imam Abdul Zhair, of Masjidullah – The Center of Excellence in West Oak Lane, said faith leaders and others have to work to provide young people with hope and opportunities. Some of them are “growing up in circumstances that are like hell,” he said.
At Northwest Victim Services, which provides free counseling for crime victims and helps cover their expenses, Melany Nelson sees the effects of the bloodshed on a daily basis.
“I deal with victims everyday that are afraid to testify in court because they think their life will be next,” Nelson, the organization’s executive director, said.