Dana Gibson, 42, has had it with gun violence in her neighborhood. Gibson, whose son was shot on the corner of 12th and Parrish Sts. earlier this month, said she has questions, and she wants answers.
“My son graduated at 11:45 am and he got shot at 11:45 pm that evening, walking to the store. He was shot in both legs and right now he was supposed to go to college and he has to learn how to walk all over again and deal with the after effects,” she said.
“My problem that I’m having is, is this is just a formality? What happens after this? What programs have been implemented? What are they doing? Why are people still talking instead of implementing programs and services for these youth?”
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Today, concerned residents and community leaders joined State Representative Curtis Thomas at a news conference calling for local authorities to address the chain of violent crimes that have recently occurred, primarily in and around Philadelphia Housing Authority housing developments in his district.
“This is a call for action. Something is fundamentally wrong and we want this call of action to reveal just what is going on,” Thomas said. “Starting with us and partnering with law enforcement, partnering with social services, partnering with communities, each month we are going to submit a report to the public. We want people to see what is going on in the 25th district so that we can do something about it.”
According to police statistics, 55 aggravated assaults by handgun, including four homicides, and 162 incidents of domestic violence have occurred in the 181st legislative district since January of this year.
There are seven Philadelphia Housing Authority housing developments in the 181st district including Richard Allen, Cambridge, Spring Garden, Warnock, Fairhill, Harrison and Norris housing projects.
Thomas said he has made several recommendations to the Philadelphia Housing Authority about ways it can prevent violence in these areas. He wants them to install more surveillance cameras around the homes, post signage that explains both the consequences of committing a crime on PHA property, and get members of the community more involved in the process.
“We’re asking them to set up a community service core. Get people in the community to work directly with the police and identify problem areas where we can intervene and deal with it before someone picks up a gun to try to solve the problem. We need bike patrols. We need sustained police presence,” Thomas said.
Though not in attendance today, PHA communications officer Nichole Tillman said the agency has equally proactive plans to keep the neighborhood safe.
"PHA is doing a lot of great things around safety and security. For the first time in ten years we’re hiring new police officers. We recently hired 50 new police officers, plus PHA is sending an additional 10 residents through the police academy to become officers. We also invested $10 million in security cameras throughout the PHA," Tillman said.
"Unfortunately, due to a scheduling conflict, we could not attend today but we’re working closely with a lot of elected officials on resident safety and security because security is of the utmost important to us."
Another program that may help address the issue is the Department of Human Services’ Improving Outcomes for Children initiative, which was implemented last year. Under the program, 10 Community Umbrella Agencies (CUAs) will partner with DHS to provide accessible social services for children and families in the DHS system.
Marvin Lazenbury, 32, is the strength and families coordinator for the Northeast Treatment Center (NET), the first of two CUAs selected to represent the 24, 25, and 26 police districts.
“It’s our job to provide a better quality of life for the people that we serve in the 25th police district. Thanks to the help of Representative Curtis Thomas, he has enlightened us to the things that are going on in our district. As a CUA, we complete needs assessments to figure out what the community needs. We are committed to work and support the community in any way we can,” He said.
As a former resident of the neighborhood, Lazenbury says his job is professional but also personal.
“I grew up at 11th and popular in Richard Allen Homes and I still think change is something that can happen. There’s a lot of fear surrounding that change but I still think it can happen with the right supports, with the right people, with the right mission, and just remaining consistent,” he said.
Having witnessed years of violence in his community, Lazenbury said its important for men from the community to get involved.
“Change is not a spectator sport; you gotta roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. I can start with myself and say that I’m committed to the task of change, but I’m calling on some other brothers like myself to really come and support this effort.”
Thomas said his office will continue to hold community meetings and provide progress reports detailing the status of its community safety efforts on a monthly basis.