Crime & Justice

Soaring gun violence puts Philadelphia on pace for new homicide record

By Paula Escalada Medrano

Philadelphia, Aug 26 (EFE).- The historic northeastern US city of Philadelphia, known as the birthplace of American independence and nicknamed the “City of Brotherly Love,” is now attracting attention for all the wrong reasons.

A metropolis located in a state – Pennsylvania – without strict gun laws, it is presently one of the most dangerous urban areas of the country and is on course in 2022 to set its all-time record for homicides for the second straight year.

Shootings in the city leave people wounded and dead nearly every day, particularly – but not exclusively – in the poorest, most marginalized neighborhoods.

The sense of insecurity is increasingly widespread, with a Pew Center poll revealing that 70 percent of the city’s inhabitants see crime as the city’s most pressing problem, up 30 percentage points from 2020.

Three-fourths of the residents of the United States’ sixth-largest city (1.6 million inhabitants) say they have heard gunshots in their neighborhood in the past 12 months.

Dismayed by the violence, artist Laura Madeleine, founder of the Souls Shot Portrait Project, launched an initiative six years ago to pair local painters with grieving relatives of victims of violence.

The portraits stemming from those contacts are a means of showing that behind every statistic and every bullet is a story and a family whose lives have been altered forever.

Nine people were shot and wounded in five separate incidents in different parts of the city on the afternoon of Aug. 23, when the interviews for this article were conducted.

In June, a massive gun battle that erupted in a crowded downtown Philadelphia nightclub district left three dead and 12 wounded.

That violent incident occurred less than 100 meters (327 feet) from Independence Hall, a popular tourist spot where the US Declaration of Independence was approved in 1776.

A total of 352 homicides have been registered in the city so far this year, according to official figures, similar to the same period of 2021. Most of the victims suffered fatal gunshot wounds.

The city’s Democratic mayor, Jim Kenney, has spent years pushing (including through legal action) for the Republican-controlled state legislature to pass tougher gun-control legislation.

Purchasing a handgun in Pennsylvania is easier than in other states, with would-be buyers typically able to obtain a license to carry a firearm as long as they are 21 or older and do not have a criminal record.

The local media, citing Philadelphia Police Department figures, says that between 2017 and 2020 the number of people in the city applying for licenses to carry held steady at around 11,000 per year but then jumped to more than 70,789 in 2021 due to rising concerns among citizens about violent crime.

Along with the Soul Shot Portrait Project, dozens of other initiatives have sprouted up in Philadelphia to address the violent crime problem, two of which are the Fathership Foundation and the NoMo (New Options More Opportunities) Foundation.

The ease in obtaining a firearm is fueling black-market sales of weapons, NoMo’s CEO and executive director, Ricky Duncan, said, adding that an individual could potentially buy a gun for $300 and sell it on the street to anyone for up to $4,000.

But Duncan, whose organization works to provide a safe space where poor and at-risk youth and young adults can develop positive life skills and nurture their potential, said he does not believe guns are the sole explanation for the high levels of violent crime in Philadelphia.

That organization’s vice president of restorative justice, Dawan Williams, told Efe for his part that the foundation is an “early intervention prevention program for youths and young adults in Philadelphia ages 12 to 26 years old.”

He added that it provides “a platform of skills and life skills that help youth and community members prosper in the world today.”

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