Making Philly Safer Takes More Than Just Getting Guns Off the Street
“You always still have that thought in the back of your mind. You always got to be vigilant,” said Elijah Ward, a Temple student now living with heightened fear since Temple Police Officer Chris Fitzgerald was brutally gunned down in Elijah’s neighborhood.
Being on edge all the time must be draining, distracting, and depressing. Imagine being a six-year-old or an 11-year-old living in that environment and still be expected to be your best in school and in life. Imagine living with a fleeting sense of stability, never feeling like you have solid ground on which to build a future.
The 60+ youth-serving organizations driving The Kids’ Campaign, including Children First, don’t have to imagine the compounded impact of violence, racism, poverty, and disinvestment on our kids – we see it every day in the children and teens we serve and advocate for. And we know that making our city safer than the day before means advancing an agenda that focuses on youth and opportunity, not just guns.
Obviously, we can’t ignore firearms when talking about violence reduction, especially since recent research shows that more youth are carrying handguns these days. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports a 41% rise in teens carrying guns from 2002 through 2019, notably rural, white, and higher-income teens. (Interestingly, the number of Black and low-income teens carrying handguns has decreased but is still too high.) Officer Fitzgerald’s 18-year-old assailant – like many other shooters – was reported to own several guns.
“The biggest problem with so many more young people carrying guns is that, increasingly, they use them – especially in a time when post-pandemic rage remains high and teen mental health is in crisis,” writes Inquirer columnist Will Bunch and he’s right. As the latest Children First reports on kids in southeastern PA show, children and teens are reeling from unmet mental health support. It seems like it’s easier for a teen to get a gun than counseling.
In addition to getting guns off the streets, the community organizations that make up The Kids’ Campaign want Philadelphia’s next mayor to solve the root causes of violent behavior like lack of mental health services but also lack of safe parks and rec centers. Working with kids in the city every day, we see how access to quality education, health care, child care, etc. can transform a child’s sense of self and community for better or worse.
The Campaign is releasing on Tuesday six position papers to inform mayoral candidates about the contributing factors to violence, like the link between safety and climate change…safety and summer jobs…safety and child care…safety and restorative justice…safety and child poverty…safety and excellent teachers. This is just the start of building the framework for keeping kids S.E.C.U.R.E through Safety, Education, Careers, Uplifting families, Recreation, and the Environment.
Please join The Kids’ Campaign as an organization or an individual. Philadelphia’s children – like all children – deserve a safe home, school, and neighborhood where they can build their dreams into a happy and successful future. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube at PHLKidsCampaign.