After a record year of homicides in 2021, Philadelphia is once again in the midst of a gun violence crisis, with 203 homicides to date, including carjackings, people shooting Uber drivers, and incidents that claim the lives of young people. Residents are fed up with the loss, the feeling that they might not be safe outside their homes — and by what many see as a lack of action from their elected leaders.
It’s an issue Philadelphia’s officials will have to contend with. And as residents headed to the polls for this summer’s primary elections, they saw voting as one way to demand a safer city. Though the candidates will have to succeed in the general election this fall, the primaries in Philadelphia tend to be definitive, given the city’s Democratic bent. Now, Philadelphia has 37 likely representatives, including a U.S. senator, a U.S. representative for the new 10th District (a result of redistricting), State Senate and House representatives, and a Northeast Philly councilmember. We talked to residents in public places throughout the city and went to two events to ask our neighbors what they want from their new officials when it comes to keeping them safe.
Here’s what they told us they want to know — and what they want their elected officials to do.
Keeping Firearms Away from Youth
Yata Bear, a 36-year-old from West Philly, said he was most concerned with how Philadelphia’s young people are getting their hands on guns. “The kids are getting them before the adults, which is crazy to me,” he says. “I want to know how they’re getting it and I want to know how y’all are going to stop them from touching these guns.”
His friend, who wished to remain anonymous, added, “Kids can’t get a basketball to shoot hoops but they can get a gun to shoot other kids.”
A Teen’s Challenge for Local Government
John Brown, a 19-year-old from the Logan section of Philadelphia, attended CeaseFire PA’s Rally to End Gun Violence, which was organized in the wake of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. “What are we doing?” Brown asked. “The fact that we have mass shooting after mass shooting, and in the city of Philadelphia we … have shootings every day. This is sickening. I just ask, are you working with the other side of the aisle?”
He added: “Is this career politics for you? Are you really trying to make a difference?”
A Potential Solution
Jeffrey Johnson, a 60-year-old from West Philly, wants to understand why his local leaders aren’t incorporating formerly incarcerated people who have turned their lives around into their violence prevention tactics.
“These state senators … that’s in the community, they need to connect more with the elders of the community that’s coming from these prisons that have changed their life,” says Johnson. “Have something positive for the youth. … They (elected officials) could connect with the youth, and have more lines of communication, because the youth trusts the elders.”
A Lack of Trust in Government
Bear said he didn’t vote in this primary because he hasn’t seen evidence that voting can create change. “It don’t matter if I put a vote in or I don’t vote, I still see the same, you know, process of what’s going on.”
Johnson has spent his whole life in Philadelphia. First in North Philly, now in West. He didn’t vote, either. “I didn’t vote today based on my feelings towards the politicians,” he said. “They are really not stepping up with the gun violence. … We shouldn’t be suffering like this.”
How Philadelphians See Gun Violence in Their Community
Brown, who attended the CeaseFire PA rally because he wanted to speak with his local leaders, wants officials to know: “There’s such a beauty to our culture that people just don’t know about. We have our own dances. We have our own sayings and food. We’re a strong community, and we deserve for you to protect us.”
Marian Fischer Pearlman, who works with Team Up Philly, an organization dedicated to empowering girls living in under-served Philadelphia neighborhoods, had a message for officials: “We are all affected. It changes who we are, it’s defining who we are as a city and a country.”
In 2023, Philadelphians will elect their next mayor, city councilmembers, and city commissioners. While there’s no telling what the next year will look like, they, too, will have to speak to Philadelphians’ concerns about public safety in our city.