Group seeks collaboration, emergency summit on safety
Saying the individual efforts of law enforcement, government, school, church, and community have failed to put a dent in violent incidents affecting Philadelphia school children, one local organization hopes to spearhead a unified approach to the problem as it affects children traveling between home and school.
Last month, the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project, a multicultural, faith-based community organization, sponsored a “Public Action” where it called for an emergency summit to create a comprehensive safety plan focused on prevention and response.
Rev. Steven Avinger, a co-chair of the event, told a packed house at Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church in South Philadelphia on September 7, “For too long, we have as parents and officials been pointing fingers [at each other, as if] to say ‘you are responsible.’ Tonight, we come together to say it is our responsibility.”
Then, politicians and police officials, church leaders and community leaders, student activists and university scholars scribbled their names on a three-foot-high pledge, vowing to collaborate on a solution.
But in the three weeks that followed EPOP’s action, three more teenagers became homicide victims.
As of September 28, police statistics say, 25 Philadelphia youth aged 17 and younger were slain this year. That compares with 27 homicide victims in that same age group for the entire year of 2003.
Public safety and anti-violence experts insist that a community can stop violence, and some that have have used the collaborative approach spearheaded by EPOP.
“There isn’t a magic bullet,” said David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center at the Harvard School of Public Health. “It’s a combination of things – people working together. You get the criminal justice system working with police working with the DA working with the community. And you have community groups and schools involved.”
Falaka Fattah — who with her husband David Fattah and their House of Umoja, were contributors to quelling gang violence that endangered many youth in the late 60s and early 70s – said, “Strategies that we employed years ago were based first on the home and family, and then we gradually spread until we had a citywide campaign.”
David Kennedy, senior researcher at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, argued that most violence hails from a small, specific group of offenders: “If you don’t reach this 5 percent, the shooting continues.”
Studies show that the impact of violence on school children is far-reaching, even if they are not direct victims of it. Research by Philadelphia’s Albert Einstein Medical Center in 2000 found that “children who had been frequently exposed to violence perform less well in school, are more anxious and depressed, and have lower self-esteem than children with less exposure.”
EPOP identified several public safety areas to address: gun violence, school safety zones, and funding issues.
As of October 1 of this school year, five Philadelphia public school students have been hit by cars as they traveled to or from school, according to District records.
In one response, Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel and state Rep. George Kenney this month announced their sponsorship of the School Zone Safety Act, that if passed would increase fines for speeding in a school zone from $35 to $500.
Avinger said, “Do not believe that the Police Department is solely responsible for protecting our children. All of us together have a role to play in protecting our children.”
For more information, contact EPOP at 215-634-8922.