On Tuesday, 1978 College graduate Everett Gillison, chief of staff in the Mayor’s Office and former deputy mayor of the Public Safety Office, spoke to students about community, crime and public safety. The discussion was hosted by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Scholars Program and the Penn Democrats.
Gillison, who is a Philadelphia native, spoke at length about his time at the Defender Association for Philadelphia, where he worked for 28 years. A major issue at the beginning of Gillison’s career in Philadelphia was the death penalty.
“At the time we had a district attorney that wanted to line up people and kill them,” Gillison said. “We had the third largest death-row population after Georgia and Texas.”
While working for the Defender Association, Gillison was tasked with defending criminals who faced the death penalty, something Gillison has taken a stand against for all of his career.
“I would sit down with them and force them to think about their choices, and if they can do that I think society has an obligation to give them a second chance,” he said.
Second chances are a major issue that Gillison has addressed in his career. As deputy mayor, Gillison oversaw the Office of Reintegration Services for Ex-Offenders, also known as RISE. The program seeks to reintegrate formally incarcerated citizens back into their communities.
“People have become used to separating people from society, but it’s a flawed system.” Gillison said. “When you take people away you destabilize the community; you need to have people in the community working to make the disease go away.”
While Gillison believes that the current state of the penal system needs to fundamentally change, he does not believe that police are the only source of the problem.
“We kill each other at a faster rate than any police officers can," he said. He added, “We also need to listen to the Black Lives Matter group — their pain is real; it’s not made up.”
For Gillison the solution has to be listening to all of the involved groups.
“We need to listen to the pain, encounter it and move through it together.”
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