Saying that they’ve moved beyond merely talking about what needs to be done to combat Philadelphia’s surging gun violence crisis, representatives from five established community organizations gathered Saturday to ask for more help from Black men to patrol neighborhoods, clean up corridors, and serve as positive role models for youth.
“Many times we come together and we say what we’re going to do. Today was about what is being done with these five different organizations,” said Stanley Crawford, cofounder of the Black Male Community Council of Philadelphia, one of the groups that presented plans to a midday audience at the Salvation Army gymnasium on Brown Street in Fairmount.
The organizations, which also include Philly Truce Inc., Reaching Out for Our Brothers, Security 4 Philly, and Community Leaders Collaborative, were joined by Philadelphia Sheriff Rochelle Bilal and City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, chair of Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention.
“I’m glad to see all of you men out here because it is needed. We women can get out here and do, but we can’t do what you can,” said Bilal, who told the groups her office and its resources are available to them if they call.
Johnson said the city’s murder-rate crisis didn’t happen overnight and it will not end overnight. He called for all citizens and organizations across the city to work together to reduce the number of shootings and killings.
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Saturday’s gathering came at a time when Philadelphia is experiencing a record-breaking homicide rate, driven largely by gun violence. As of Saturday morning, there had been 327 homicides in the city this year compared to 322 at the same time last year, which ended as the deadliest year in city history with 562 slayings.
Eric K. Grimes, also known as Brother Shomari, founder of Reaching Out For Our Brothers, which mentors young men in the Wynnefield and Carroll Park neighborhoods of West Philadelphia, said his work emphasizes manhood development rather than antiviolence.
“We got a crisis of Black manhood. I don’t care what name you want to put on it you can call it Black-on-Black violence, you can call it gentrification, you can call it whatever the hell you want to call it, but at the end of the day we have a crisis of Black manhood,” he said. “The mission that is in front of us is the resurrection of Black manhood.”
Sashaun Townsend, 27, founder of Security 4 Philly, which trains young men to provide security services for clients, said he believes there is a rift between younger and older Black men that is hampering efforts to make the community safer. “For things to be right we got to create the new culture,” he said. “We cannot do that without communication especially between the older men and the younger men.”
Mazzie Casher, cofounder of Philly Truce, which runs an app through which people can get help resolving conflicts with others, said his organization now has branched out into helping to promote weekly peace patrols in different parts of the city. He asked those who want to be notified by text of upcoming walks to visit zerohomicidesnow.com.
Pastor Chris Brown, of the Salvation Army, said the murder of a close friend last year led him to open the church gym which had been closed for 20 years to youth and for community functions, like Saturday’s.
“I’m a Christian. A lot of the guys here are Muslim. To me it really doesn’t matter. We all have to work together if we’re going to stop this gun violence. It’s too great of a problem for one person or one religion,” said Brown, who moved from New York last year to become pastor of the Brown Street location.
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