Philadelphia- Philadelphians have lived with the fear and trauma of gun violence, ripping our communities apart at the seams since 2020. But gun violence is nothing new for Philly, nor is it unique to our city or any city. Guns and drugs have been flooding our communities for generations; no matter how much they over-policed our neighborhoods, locked up our neighbors, and criminalized our children, gun, drugs, and violence are still ravaging us.
With 70 percent of Philadelphians saying public safety is their number one concern, I was very interested in what Philadelphia’s next mayor would do differently to solve our communities’ systemic problems to make them safe for our families.
That’s why I wasn’t too surprised Jeff Brown skipped out on the forum after his recent flip-flopping on issues central to the balance between public safety and criminal justice reform. It’s hard to trust a guy that will tell West Philadelphians he’s against giving the police more money in addition to the whopping 800 million they already have, then he tells voters in the North East that increasing police budgets is his number one priority.
Of the candidates that did show up for the forum, there was a consensus that public safety requires a whole of government and community approach that includes police, poverty reduction, community improvement, improvement in education, job creation, and accountability.
“The violence is a symptom of many other issues; the issues are lack of good paying jobs, which makes housing unaffordable, which can take people out of poverty and reduce crime,” said Allen Domb. “Education’s a big part of this, in the long run, and in the short term, it’s controlling the violence.”
“I came in after a mayor shutdown, Beacon Centers and schools and libraries and other institutions that serve our young people, said Helen Gym. “I’m here to invest in them and show that the response to safety is about not just creating safe streets, but ensuring that our children, families, and others are stronger and more resilient than before.”
Candidates brought their lived experience to the table as they laid out their plans to make Philadelphia safe, balancing their experience in previous offices with their experiences in their neighborhoods and growing up in Philadelphia, even when those experiences created contradictions.
“As someone who realizes the challenges we have in our city, as an African American man, especially as an assistant district attorney who was once racially profiled while leaving the DA’s office, we have to have a much stronger approach to how we deal with gun violence in our city,” said Derek Green while speaking about why he was running for mayor.
There was consensus among the candidates that there is a need for the next mayor to declare some state of emergency and move city resources into a coordinated approach.
“On day one, I will establish a state of emergency that talks about how we bring our police officers back on foot and bike patrol, how we reduce 911 response time, how we make sure we have a coordinated response, an emergency protocol response for immediate responses to victims of tragedy,” said Gym. “How we make sure that we reach our young people and that we make sure that we bring and deliver safe routes to and from schools for young people to make sure that they have safe passage.”
Candidate after candidate called for a holistic approach, even when the driver of their policy to address public safety was centered around policing and the courts.
“The fact that 74% of the victims and the shooters look just like me is a problem. We’re not aggressively going after illegal gun possession, but it’s not only presence and accountability and having a stronger perspective, but also opportunity and investment,” said Derek Green. “Making sure that those who unfortunately get caught up in the criminal justice system have a real opportunity and family-sustaining jobs, as well as investing in those critical infrastructures and organizations that can help address some of the trauma in our city. So it’s a holistic approach: presence, accountability, opportunity, and investment.”
Cherelle Parker had a great point about the need for modernizing the investigative practices and tools used by the Philadelphia Police Department.
“How is our police department expected to solve crimes using Flintstone-like technology,” said Cherelle Parker. “We need a modern-day forensics lab, and we already are at $30 million; we need additional funding.”
However, Parker undermines her point by pretending people don’t have a right to be concerned about a bloated police budget that has taken money out of their communities that could have been used for other much-needed services.
Instead, Parker doubled down on her previous call to reinstitute Stop and Frisk using the less controversial phrasing of “proactive community policing.” Promising that she would magically keep the police, who have consistently disrespected and abused black and brown communities for generations, in check with a promise of “zero tolerance for any misuse and abuse of authority.”
Other candidates took a more data and people-centered approach to public safety, looking at more systemic changes driven by community investment.
“If we want to end gun violence in our communities, we need to invest in them; when I was City Controller, we mapped out where the violence was happening, and it’s in areas that were redlined in the 30s and 40s, the problems we face today due to the racist policies of previous generations,” said Rebecca Rhynhart.
“Unlike most folks looking at this from a police perspective, I’m running for mayor because systemic changes are needed in how our operating departments make our neighborhoods safe,” said Maria Quines Sanchez. “What does that mean? It means cameras, LED lighting, trash and blight removal, and vacant land stabilization. Those data sets show us that when we make an area safe, it begins to feel safe. We must return and invest in neighborhoods we haven’t invested in so those neighborhoods look and feel safe.”
“Then we must stop policies destabilizing families in our criminal justice system and our health and human services budget. We remove more children from families than any other part of the world, and most of the time, we’re removing them based on issues related to poverty, not the reality of what’s going on in the home,” said Sanchez. “I would call on our health and human resources department to invest in people, to help families be safe. We know the next victim and the next shooter; we have failed them, failed them in our education system, and failed them when they entered our criminal justice system.”
All of the candidates had a mixture of good ideas, some even bordering on novel, but ultimately they fell into one of two camps either they were going to be tough on crime or smart on crime. Candidates Cherelle Parker, Derek Green, and Jimmy Deleon leaned heavily on policing their way out of the current gun violence crisis. In contrast, Maria Quinones Sanchez, Rebecca Rrynhart, and Helen Gym lead on making transformational changes that would prioritize people and get at the root causes, as did Allen Dobb, but from a different direction.
100th Mayor: Restoring Safety Forum Facebook Video
It doesn’t need to be said, but all of the issues we face as a city are complex, as are the policies of each of the candidates. I’ll be providing more info about their positions, experience, and voting records in future columns as we approach election day, May 16.