Veteran joins call for action against gun violence by going on hunger strike

Jamal Johnson's motivation is the nearly 500 homicides in the city last year.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As Philadelphia's gun violence climbs at a record pace, a 63-year-old veteran is demanding change through a hunger strike.

Jamal Johnson is an activist and disabled Marine Corps veteran who has been planted outside City Hall for more than two weeks.

He's demanding Mayor Jim Kenney to treat gun violence the same as other public health crises.

Johnson is faithfully outside of the north side of City Hall by 1 p.m. every day and has even gone to the mayor's home. He wants Kenney to implement a resolution created by Councilmember Jamie Gauthier that would make the city treat gun violence as an emergency.

"To see that we haven't escalated gun violence up to the level of the coronavirus, which came last year, is beside me," Johnson said.

Johnson's motivation is the nearly 500 homicides in the city last year.

"A lot of friends have been killed. I've seen the baby dying," Johnson said.

He is now on a mission here at home and making a big sacrifice.

On Thursday, the Germantown resident was 18 days into his hunger strike. Johnson said he is down 15 pounds and wants the mayor to see the urgency in tackling homicides.

Police report there have been 51 homicides this year compared to 38 at the same time last year.

Councilmember Gauthier is a vocal component of the changing approach to gun violence in the city. She authored the resolution months ago, demanding that the city treat gun violence as a public health crisis and hold weekly briefings similar to the way COVID-19 is addressed.
"I'm frustrated that the call, not just by me, but many others in the community, by people who are willing to put their bodies on the line. I feel frustrated that call is not being respected," Gauthier said.

Kenney said the city has implemented new initiatives like engaging at-risk youth and providing job opportunities.

We pressed him on why he hasn't signed the resolution.

"I don't want to promise somebody a state of emergency. I don't want to lock down the entire city, or people to have a curfew. I don't want people to not be able to congregate if they congregate peacefully. These are things the state of emergency can have an impact on," the mayor said.

The mayor said when it comes to briefings, oftentimes police officers are not allowed to disclose information because it could jeopardize an investigation, or the way police are treating problems in the city.
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