Philadelphia homicides surge hit 30-year high in 2020

Philadelphia marked 2020 as its most violent year in three decades with Black residents overwhelmingly the victims.

The homicide rate for 2020 was 499, a figure up 40% from 2019, according to the police department’s online database. Killings in the City of Brotherly Love have not reached that level since 1990 when there were 500, according to the police department.

Homicides and shootings disproportionately affected African-American Philadelphians, far outpacing their share of the city’s overall population (44%).

Black Philadelphians, according to police data, accounted for about 86% of the 499 homicides.

Women and children were not spared. Thirty-three minors were killed this year so far, of which 11 were under 11 years old, and 40 women were murdered. Children accounted for 195 of the shooting victims and women 229.

The Philadelphia Police Department has a homicide clearance rate of 42.3%, down from 52.4% in 2019; both are lower than the national average of 61.4%, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting.

Shooting victims were disproportionately Black, too. Black Philadelphians were the victims in 84% of the 2,236 shootings, according to police data.

Mayor Jim Kenney said in an email that he shared the pain and sorrow of Philadelphians affected by violence. Although his administration’s anti-violence efforts were stymied by the coronavirus pandemic this year, Kenney said they will be back on track in 2021 to address the public health crisis of violence.

The administration is working to streamline anti-violence efforts and programs in several city offices to more effectively partner with community members to reduce violence, Kenney said.

“We don’t give up. We don’t give in,” Kenney said. “We are determined to save lives and create peace. We will turn the page on this dark chapter in the history of our city, and we will write the new book together. I vow to be with Philadelphians every step of the way as we take on this challenge.”

Philadelphia spike in homicides this year followed a national trend in major U.S. cities. New York City had 437 homicides as of Dec. 20, up 39.2% from the same time last year; Chicago had 768 murders as of Sunday, up 48.8%; and Los Angeles had 343 homicides as of Saturday, up 33.5%.

While homicides in Philadelphia have trended upwards for years, the city has never experienced such a significant spike in year-over-year homicides, according to police data dating back to 1960.

Stanley Crawford, a community activist who founded the Black Male Community Council of Philadelphia after his son was killed in 2018, said officials tasked with reducing violence were “out of touch.”

Crawford said he believed that the police department’s failure to solve murders, along with the “internal strife” between city agencies, officials and the police union were exacerbating the homicide rate.

“Officials are out of touch and won’t get in touch with those who are doing the boots-on-the-ground activity in the community,” Crawford said.

Anton Moore, founder of Unity in the Community, a nonprofit organization that according to its website is dedicated to changing the lives of others in the South Philadelphia area, believed that the coronavirus pandemic was contributing to the rise in homicides among young people.

The pandemic closed school buildings and moved learning online, nixed sporting events, gyms, and other activities, and prevented community leaders from engaging with young people, Moore said. Social media fills much of the void, where arguments and “beefs” drive shootings, he said.

“Right now, kids are home,” Moore said. “When they’re at home, they’re not just in the house playing at no computer. They’re out looking for something.”

Gun violence surged in 2020 despite the Kenney administration rolling out a new anti-violence strategy this summer known as group violence intervention. The model put pressure on and provided services to small groups of offenders who were believed to be involved with gun violence.

Kenney retooled the city’s anti-violence initiatives in early 2019, known as Philadelphia Roadmap for Safer Communities. The initiative included the Philadelphia Police Department’s Operation Pinpoint, a program seeking to reduce violent crime in the targeted areas.

Community activists said poverty, a lack of access to economic opportunities, access to firearms, confrontations, and white institutional racism continue to drive homicides here.

“This poverty is breeding some of this frustration,” Crawford said. “You just have people that don’t have nothing to live for and nothing not to kill for.”

Bilal Qayyum, president of the Father’s Day Rally Committee, said white institutional racism has resulted in Black Philadelphians being locked out of jobs, having higher rates of poverty, and living in segregated neighborhoods.

“People have a tendency to lash out when they have no hope,” Qayyum said.

Qayyum said many Philadelphians and officials don’t want to acknowledge and talk about how race drives violence in Philadelphia.

“We have to have that discussion in 2021,” he said.

Moore said young Black people and their parents must be more accountable because those causing the violence don’t listen to politicians or police.

“We have to be accountable for the things that happen,” he said. “Yes, government can do its part. … There should be accountability for people raising these kids too! If my kids are hiding guns in my house, there ain’t no mayor or police officers that’s going to stop that.”

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