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Philadelphia on Pace to Break Homicide Record as Gun Violence Spirals Out of Control

A crime scene in Philadelphia, Pa., following a shooting, July 19, 2021 (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

With homicides peaking at 500 in November, Philadelphia has just reached — and is likely to exceed — its murder record, previously set in 1990.

Amid the development that the city had reached this record, Mayor Jim Kenney lamented the rise of gun violence and declared creating a safe community a priority for his administration.

“I never stop thinking about the victims and their families and the incredible loss these senseless deaths leave behind. And as we enter this holiday season, I can’t help [but] think of all the incredible potential that has been extinguished by the loss of life,” he said Wednesday.

Kenney touted a recent initiative in collaboration with law enforcement, called Operation Pinpoint Strategy, to curb crime and “take record numbers of guns off the streets.”

“Every one of these guns off the streets is one less that could be used to harm or kill Philadelphians,” he said. The startling surge in violence largely coincided with the COVID pandemic, which wrought economic and social distress across the country, resulting in higher unemployment.

In June, Philadelphia’s city council authorized a fiscal 2022 budget that allocates over $155 million in violence-prevention programs to reduce gun violence. Out of that total, $22 million in grants is designated for organizations focused on “reducing violence through trauma-informed healing and restorative practices and safe havens and mentorship,” according to NBC Philadelphia.

“Each and every homicide carries with it a profound sense of loss,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said in a statement. “However, for our City to have reached such a tragic milestone – 500 lives cut short – it carries a weight that is almost impossible to truly comprehend.”

Outlaw suggested that her department is dealing with low morale because of the mixed rhetoric vacillating between demanding greater police presence and demanding their defunding or abolition. Like many police bureaus nationwide, Outlaw suggested that hers is struggling with officer recruiting and retention because of the confusing cues from the public.

“How do we figure out what our roles are when our narratives are vacillating between: ‘We want more cops,’ ‘No we don’t,’ ‘Defund,’ and, ‘By the way, we want you to do these additional things but we don’t believe it’s OK to give you resources to do it,” Outlaw told Whyy.org. “It was a lot of counter-intuitive, conflicting narratives happening all at once with us caught in the middle of that.”

Jamal Johnson, a local resident who participated in a hunger strike to raise awareness for gun violence in the city, finally ended the protest when the mayor agreed to meet with him to discuss the issue.

“The people I talk with every day have a sense of lawlessness in their neighborhoods. They feel like the people who do get caught get off and those who don’t get caught are just doing it over and over again. They feel our government has given up,” Johnson told NBC Philadelphia.

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