Yesterday, I attended a meeting in North Philadelphia in which community leaders expressed their desperate desire to intervene in the recent rash of violence in the region.
It was a sad meeting. It was clear that the ministers that were leading it sincerely wanted to stop the gun violence. The community is in pain. It has been for a while. Decades of neglect and under-investment are now only acknowledged when women, children or an innocent, pregnant woman are caught in the crossfire.
The meeting was filled with rage and frustration.
Though I don’t doubt that the intentions of the conveners, I left feeling more frustrated than when I arrived.
The ministers that ran the meeting made it clear that we were not there to debate what was to be done. We were there to plan a march and a cook-out as a means to discourage the drug dealers in the community to stop killing other people.
I am not trying to make fun of these leaders. Of course I understand that no one at the meeting thought that the march itself, which is to take place on October 4th at 12 noon starting at Germantown and Allegheny, is not going to stop the violence. Our hosts did say that this was the first step and that the real work will take place after that march. The march is supposed to bring people together and then after that, we will figure out what would come next.
Nonetheless, I left feeling tense about the main suggestion that did come forward- the Gun Buy Back scheme.
I have heard of these programs and I have always thought that they sounded nonsensical.
If you had to use a gun to protect your “turf” or to kill your competition (as drug dealers apparently do), and that is how this trade works, why would you ever swap your gun for a bag of groceries? The gun is probably worth more in cash to other drug dealers than the grocerys you would be swapping them for.
Other city’s that have conducted these have found that most of the guns that were turned in were already non-operational.
I offer you this illustrative example; in my neighborhood we have a problem with illegal scrapers. These thieves break into empty houses and steal all of the pipes and wiring and sell them for scrap. Does it make sense to offer to buy all of their hammers and crowbars?
I don’t mean to over simplify the problem of gun violence either. Violence is extremely complicated and I wouldn’t even pretend to offer solutions. I don’t understand it. I would never use violence and don’t know any one who would.
However, it feels instinctive to me to at least look at the fact that North Philadelphia lacks dignified labor as a major problem. From this problem many bad symptoms arise from drug and substance abuse, prostitution, drug dealing, illegal guns and violence.
Even if there were good jobs for all, there would still be elements of all of those things but probably far fewer incidents.
Sadly, we didn’t get into any deeper issues at this meeting.
In fact, the last band-aid solution posed as we left was to partner with Temple Hospital to give the community free “First Responder” classes specifically for gun shot victims. Talk about about dealing with symptoms.
I cross my fingers that the next meeting goes a different direction.