Public webinar opens discussion on gun violence among Philadelphia's youth

The Stoneleigh Foundation said every year about 1,800 people are shot in Philadelphia and one-third of them are school-age.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2024
Public webinar opens discussion on gun violence among Philadelphia's youth
Public webinar opens discussion on gun violence among Philadelphia's youth

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Gun violence among the youth in Philadelphia has been at the forefront of city crime.

Just last month, eight teenagers from Northeast High School were shot on Cottman Avenue while waiting for a SEPTA bus.

"As of April 1, 2024, there have been 181 non-fatal and 62 fatal shootings in Philadelphia. Though these numbers indicate a downward trend, we realize that this is no reason to celebrate," said Marie Williams, deputy director of the Stoneleigh Foundation.

Philadelphia police and Philadelphia School District leaders gathered Tuesday for a public webinar called, "Understanding Gun Violence Victimization and Perpetration Amongst School-Age Youth in Philadelphia."

It was hosted by the Stoneleigh Foundation, an organization that works to improve life outcomes for the city's youth. They explored data and how it can help drive change.

Stoneleigh fellow Dr. Brandy Blasko was able to pinpoint information like the month, day of the week, time, and even location where the risk is highest for shootings among students.

Her findings suggest that 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. is a critical time of day.

"Keeping your kids after school, keeping them engaged for the next two, two-and-a-half hours after school is absolutely the right thing to do," said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel.

Ryan Harris is one of many official and unofficial community partners working with city and school leaders to combat the issue.

Harris founded the nonprofit As I Plant This Seed in Hunting Park in 2012. He calls the youth violence heartbreaking and frustrating.

Hunting Park is the neighborhood where he grew up and where he's committed to creating opportunities for youth for free.

"So many different programs that we offer and more just being a family and a safe place for the community, for the kids, for the youth to have a place to really just reach their full potential," Harris said about the nonprofit.

Harris' vision is a shared goal for all of those involved in Tuesday's discussion.

Interim Philadelphia School District Chief of Safety Craig Johnson was also part of the conversation.

"We must remember victims of gun violence reach much further than just those who were shot. Each person who was a witness, a relative, or a friend of someone who was shot is also a victim of gun violence and these numbers are immeasurable. When we speak with groups of our youth and ask how many know someone who was a victim of gun violence, the number of hands that go up is absolutely astounding," Johnson said.

Johnson named several programs and initiatives the school district promotes to encourage student safety.

They include:

- Safe Net, an email reporting system for students and the community

- Safe2Say Something, a youth violence prevention program run by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office

- Weapons Screenings in middle and high schools

- Police Athletic League (PAL) Safety Centers in middle schools

- The Safe Path Program in 25 schools, a program that makes sure kids get home safely after school

- Upgrading School District CCTV

- Mentoring programs and more

The Stoneleigh Foundation said every year, about 1,800 people are shot in Philadelphia and about one-third of them are school-age children.

Harris hopes he's playing a small role and bringing those numbers down.

"A lot of the things I do today literally replicate the things that were done for me," Harris said.