As Philly shootings soar, city fills with guns

PHILADELPHIA — The 300th killing of the year claimed the life of 18-year-old father-to-be Lameer Boyd, who was shot on a West Philadelphia sidewalk one night in July. In the days that followed, a grandmother was shot in the neck in Mill Creek, a pop singer was killed in front of her South Philadelphia home, and a 26-year-old was outside a restaurant in East Tioga. was shot during an argument.

On a Tuesday night, Aug. 2, a car pulled up at a front porch picnic area in northeast Philadelphia. Someone in the car shot and killed a 29-year-old woman.

With her 322nd death this year, Philadelphia’s homicide count is on track to be the highest number on police records, surpassing a dismal milestone set just last year. More than 1,400 people have been shot and killed in the city by 2022, hundreds of them dead, a higher toll than in major cities like New York or Los Angeles. Over the past two years, gun violence has sounded alarm bells across the country, but Philadelphia is one of the few major U.S. cities that is truly as bad as ever.

The crisis is all the more harrowing because it is so concentrated in certain communities north and west of Philadelphia that were left behind decades ago by red lines and other forms of discrimination and are now often referred to as the poorest in the country. One of the poorest areas in the region of large cities. Other parts of Philadelphia have at times erupted in violence, including a mass shooting in June on a street packed with bars and restaurants. But most of the gunfire occurred on dilapidated row houses, vacant lots and iron-cage front porches.

The city government has responded to the crisis with a range of measures, including grants for community groups, violence intervention programs and earlier curfews. But there appears to be no ready answer to a key question: what to do with all guns.

“Everybody’s armed,” said Jonathan Wilson, director of the Fathers Foundation, a southwest Philadelphia nonprofit that has been helping to conduct a multi-city survey of young people’s attitudes toward gun culture. “There’s no one in these postcodes without a gun because they’ve always been dangerous.”

In a recent news conference, Mayor Jim Kenney lamented that authorities “keep taking guns off the street, and they’re being replaced almost immediately”. In fact, according to a city report earlier this year, the problem is worse than that. For every illegal firearm seized by Philadelphia police between 1999 and 2019, about three were legally bought and sold — before the recent surge in gun ownership.

In Philadelphia, as across the country, the pace of legal gun sales has skyrocketed over the past two years, roughly doubling during the pandemic. The number of gun licenses issued in the city jumped from about 7,400 in 2020 to more than 52,000 in 2021.

None of those figures include a clearly thriving illegal gun market. Reports of gun theft have surged in the past two years, with major gun trafficking pipelines uncovered and, according to police, more firearms illegally converted into fully automatic weapons.

The city has sued the gun-friendly state legislature for preempting power to enact stricter local gun laws, such as the requirement to report lost or stolen guns. There is a public debate within Philadelphia officials over the enforcement of the law. In July, after two police officers were shot dead during July 4 celebrations, some city council leaders even suggested reinstating a police tactic many saw as a disgrace of the earlier era: stop and frisk.

“There’s a lot of people on the streets of Philadelphia talking, ‘When are we going to look at stop-and-frisks in a constitutional and positive way?'” City Council President Darrell L. Clarke said in a news release. “These are the conversations people have to have.”

Given a consent decree requiring monitoring of police stops, as well as opposition from other city leaders, and a lack of evidence that the practice ever worked, past stop-and-frisks, when police conducted thousands of street searches overwhelmingly targeted black Philadelphians people, unlikely to return. But bringing up the topic completely exposed the depths of official outrage.

Some of the frustration was directed at District Attorney Larry Krasner, whose approach to criminal justice has drawn criticism from the mayor, anger from the police union and threats of impeachment from Republican state lawmakers.

Mr. Krasner, one of the most prominent progressive prosecutors in the country, has long argued that a focus on arresting and incarcerating people who carry guns without a license is not only ineffective, but counterproductive because it diverts police energy. And resources from tackling violent crime and alienating investigators need to serve as sources and witnesses.

“You can arrest a lot of guns, but there’s not a significant reduction in shootings,” he said in an interview.

No arrests were made in three-quarters of fatal shootings last year, even as arrests for illegal firearms surged to record levels, according to statistics provided by Krasner’s office.

Mr Krasner said only a small percentage of those arrested for carrying firearms without permission were those who actually pushed for violence. He insists the city needs to focus on those who have proven themselves dangerous and invest in advanced forensic technology to clear hundreds of unsolved shootings.

“What’s their theory – instead of chasing down whoever actually shot,” Mr Krasner asked, “we should put 100 people in jail because one of them possible Shoot someone? “

Some city officials, including the police chief, see things differently.

“I think there are some philosophical differences between us,” Police Chief Danielle M. Outlaw said in an interview.She said she advocated “a bothno either“Method. Earlier this year, police created a special unit to investigate non-fatal shootings, with four dozen detectives and other officers handling cases across the city. But the commissioner insists police are equally committed to fighting illegal gun possession.

“Those who carry and use these firearms illegally must face consequences,” Ms Outlaw said. “If I go out and get this gun knowing nothing will happen to me, why would it stop me from doing anything illegal with the gun?”

For those living in crisis every day, these questions come from the heart.

Marguerite Ruff is a special education classroom assistant at an elementary school in Philadelphia. One Saturday morning seven years ago, her youngest son, Justin, 23, was shot and killed in the street.

Ms Raff said in a recent interview that there should be tougher penalties for illegally carrying firearms. But she added that it probably won’t make any difference. “They thought they could get away with it because they were young,” she said.

A few years ago, “thinking people” wouldn’t carry guns on the streets of Philadelphia, Ms. Raff said, “but now you can’t even get out of your house, you can’t go to your car, you can’t drive around the corner. She said she didn’t like so many people with guns, but “in a way, I can understand that.” “

On a sultry summer afternoon, dozens of boys and girls aged 11 to 17 gathered at the North Philadelphia headquarters of NOMO, a nonprofit that serves at-risk youth in the city. The group’s CEO, Rickey Duncan, asked to raise his hand: How many people feel threatened every day? The vast majority raised their hands. How many people would feel safer with a gun? The reaction is about the same.

How many people know how to get a gun with one phone call? The response was almost unanimous.

One young man explained it this way: If you are arrested, you can still see your family in jail. Not so if you die.

Mr. Duncan called the man, a 21-year-old project participant who did not want to be named for his own safety, and asked him to tell his story.

The young man said he spent a few hundred dollars on a 9mm pistol from an acquaintance a few years ago, only to have it taken by another friend, shot him and walked away. The friend was later charged with shooting and killing two people. That’s what’s happening now, he said.

“We still want to do better,” he said. “But there are a lot of things on the way.”

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