The Russian author Leo Tolstoy famously noted that “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” wrote John L. Micek of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.
It’s not a bad way to think about the gun violence epidemic that’s wracked some of America’s largest cities, including Philadelphia, even as the COVID-19 pandemic has exacted its own deadly toll.
Every city has its own problems, and challenges, but the causes behind gun violence — actual poverty and a poverty of opportunity — are remarkably the same.
That analogy rushed to mind as I read the comments of Erica Atwood, the senior director of Philadelphia’s Office of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Criminal Justice and Public Safety.
“Gun violence is a symptom; it is not the overarching problem,” Atwood told Stateline.org, as part of a broader examination of how cities are reacting to the deadly explosions of violence within their borders.
“If we do not look at the issues of poverty, poor access to mental and behavioral health, poor access to quality education and training and economic mobility, we are going to continue to have these conversations every 15 to 20 years,” Atwood continued.
Philadelphia marked its deadliest year in recent memory in 2021, with 562 homicides and 2,332 total shootings, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune reported last month.
The City of Brotherly Love was one of 16 major U.S. cities that logged a rise in homicides in 2021, Stateline reported, citing data compiled by the Council on Criminal Justice.
All told, homicides rose by 5% last year, compared to 2020 tallies in the nearly two dozen cities the council analyzed, Stateline reported. The majority were shootings.
Last year, Philadelphia released a roadmap aimed at addressing its gun violence challenges, Stateline reported. It provided specific neighborhoods and high-risk individuals with access to social services and conflict mediation intended to prevent future violence.
The city’s plan also calls for trimming the ranks of blighted properties. City officials also are working with the state to investigate and stop illegal gun trafficking. The plan further directs city police to target “hotspots” where gun violence is more frequent.
Atwood told Stateline that she expects the city’s homicide rate to drop as more of those policies are brought online — potentially reaching pre-pandemic levels by 2023. If there’s a bright spot, it’s that homicides are down slightly from this time last year at 53—a 15% reduction, Stateline reported.
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