Deadly Shooting of Boy, 15, Underscores Rising Killings of Philly's Kids

The number of homicides among youths less than 18 years old is on pace to surpass 2020's total

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After a 15-year-old boy died in the crossfire Tuesday in North Philadelphia, community members are worried about the rising number of killings involving kids in the city.

As of April 6 of this year, there have been 16 homicides involving youths under 18 years old in Philadelphia, according to Officer Miguel Torres, a Philadelphia Police Department spokesman. That number is greater than the four homicides involving youths recorded during the same time last year, and on pace to surpass the 35 such homicides seen in all of 2020.

Gun violence, specifically, has been rising in cities across the U.S. since early last year, said Jason Gravel, an assistant professor at Temple University’s Department of Criminal Justice. Even factoring for that, though, Philadelphia’s gun problem is outsized.

“It’s pretty high, even compared to other cities,” Gravel.

In 2020, there were 23 fatal and 174 nonfatal shootings involving children and teenagers, according to crime statistics from Philadelphia’s Office of the Controller. That represented nine more deadly shootings and 70 more nondeadly shootings involving youths than in 2019.

Meanwhile, 2021 has seen nine fatal and 38 nonfatal shootings involving youths.

Among the dead are not only the 15-year-old in North Philadelphia but a slew of other kids, including 11-year-old Harley Clarence, who was similarly caught in the crossfire while riding his motorized bike in the Oxford Circle neighborhood late last month.  

“I wish that these people would put down these guns and stop shooting our children,” said Keisha Hunter, a mother who lives in the vicinity where the 15-year-old was killed Tuesday. “We don’t need this. We are already going through enough with this pandemic and the economic crisis that everybody is suffering.”

But while the coronavirus pandemic “probably has something to do” with the rising gun crimes, it doesn’t tell the whole story, Gravel said.

He noted that while people in poorer neighborhoods have more acutely felt the effects of rising crime during the pandemic, the underlying issues were present even before 2020. He pointed to the availability of guns as a bigger driver of violence.

 “I think guns are not particularly hard for people to get if you know where to look,” Gravel said. “Guns are everywhere in this country, so even if we have strict gun laws today, it’s not going to reduce tomorrow the stock of guns that are on the street.”

Reducing the availability of guns could prove a long-term solution, but passing laws making bullets more difficult to get could have a more immediate impact, he said.

In addition, more resources need to be provided for social workers and people who go out within their communities to mediate conflicts and stop violence before it happens, Gravel said.

“I think there are more complicated and more fundamental things that need to be done in terms of making sure that resources are brought to the communities – not just nice words and catchphrases but actual changes,” he said.

There are additional resources for people or communities that have endured gun violence in Philadelphia. Further information can be found here.

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