Activists, City Councilmembers want National Guard, FEMA to help with problems in Philadelphia

An activist wants the National Guard to help stem gun violence, while council members seek federal help with the opioid crisis.

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Friday, June 10, 2022
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An activist wants the National Guard to help stem gun violence, while council members seek federal help with the opioid crisis.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A life-long Philadelphian, Jamal Johnson has never seen what he's seeing right now.

"The communities are being ran over with all this shooting, killings, carjackings," said Johnson, who is a retired Marine turned community activist and founder of Stop Killing Us.

Johnson has been known to protest for peace. He did a nearly month-long hunger strike outside CityHall in order to get an audience with Mayor Jim Kenney to discuss ways to stop gun violence in the city.

But now, Johnson he aims to do something bigger.

"I'm demanding that we have the National Guard come in," said Johnson.

He wants the National Guard to help restore order to the streets as the city continues to deal with gun violence. Johnson also wants the mayor to declare a state of emergency in order to gain access to federal resources to fight gun violence.

"What else do we have left?" asked Johnson of current efforts being made. "We have to have somebody who's going to show strength and presence."

Mayor Jim Kenney, though, isn't convinced of the need for the National Guard.

"First of all, it would be the Pennsylvania Guard. It wouldn't be the National Guard," he clarified, adding even that's not likely to help.

"Pennsylvania Guard is not approved to patrol or make arrests," Kenney said. "We used them in a time of civil unrest to guard property."

The National Guard was last in Philadelphia during protests over the murder of George Floyd. National Guard troops surrounded areas including City Hall. That's much different, Kenney says, from being in neighborhoods.

"How would you like soldiers marching around your neighborhood?" Kenney asked.

He raised the question of whether calling in the National Guard has been a feasible option for other cities.

"Has any other city dealing with this gun violence done that? No other city has done that. So we're not going to be the first," he said.

Johnson says the National Guard is necessary, partially due to Philadelphia's shortage of police officers. The National Guard, he said, will supplement that coverage on the streets.

"We don't want the guard to replace the police. We want the presence on the streets," he said.

The calls for a state of emergency aren't just coming from activist - they're also coming from Philadelphia City Council.

Several council members are asking for a state of emergency to address the opioid epidemic in Kensington.

"Put in a resolution asking for the federal government to declare Kensington a FEMA site," said Councilman-at-Large Allan Domb.

He worked along with Councilmember Mark Squilla (District 1) and Councilmember Maria Quinones Sanchez (District 7)to draft a resolution that would declare a state of emergency in Kensingto, where the opioid epidemic has led to what they say is a humanitarian crisis.

The resolution passed in the council unanimously.

"It should bring financial assistance. It should bring planning in place," said Domb.

But the resolution would still need the mayor's approval in order to take effect.

"We're hoping the mayor will pick up the phone and we'll have a dialogue," Domb said. "The governor's on board."

Domb is hopeful that he and his fellow councilmembers can schedule a call with the mayor and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf within the next week.

He says, if the state of emergency is approved and FEMA help is dispatched to Kensington, the area could be cleaned up in as little as six months utilizing help from community organizations in Kensington as well.

Johnson, meantime, has created a petition to have others sign off on the request for the National Guard.