Councilman launches a gun-violence task force in SW Philly

Posted: March 24, 2014

TWO YOUNG MEN were shot dead on the streets of Southwest Philadelphia a few blocks away from each other on a cold Friday in January. They died minutes apart.

"This is insane," City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson recalled thinking when he heard the news.

The deaths of Jahmeer Jett and Benjamin Collier on Jan. 17 prompted community leaders from the area to reach out to Johnson to discuss the ongoing problem of youth and guns that plagues their neighborhoods, he said.

Johnson, who had already established a gun task force in South Philadelphia, decided to spin off the idea in Southwest.

"We should never live as if this is normal," Johnson said of the gun violence in the city.

The Councilman Kenyatta Johnson Neighborhood Task Force on Youth Gun Violence met for the first time March 8 at Myers Recreation Center, on Kingsessing Avenue near 58th Street, to come up with solutions to temper shootings in Southwest Philadelphia.

Since Jan. 1, the area has been the seventh-most-violent neighborhood in the city (of 55), according to Inquirer figures. There have been 117 violent incidents, including the two homicides in January, statistics show.

The task force established committees to come up with a coordinated plan that will connect area residents with city services and organizations as a preventive measure for youth at risk of succumbing to gun violence; to promote conflict resolution in surrounding schools, rec centers and other gathering places; and to reintegrate juvenile and adult ex-offenders into society.

"Let's be creative to find a way to empower these students to make their own money," said Regina Young, executive director of the Empowered Communities Development Corp.

Johnson also said he wants to "get the community engaged with the Police Department and the District Attorney's Office."

Most of all, he and other organizers want the task force to be "community driven, community oriented," with plenty of youth involvement.

The task force's approach varies from some anti-gun-violence initiatives because it asks young people to join the effort, express their ideas and come up with solutions, participants said.

"That's the crucial point of it. What's in their minds? What motivates them to reach for a gun?" said Marsha W. Wall, president of the Southwest Community Advisory Group.

"You want to hear it directly from the young people," Wall said. "Why not listen to what the young people have to say?"

Young people are invited to the next meeting in April, Johnson said. An exact date has not yet been set.

On Twitter: @ReginaMedina


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