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Credit: Chase Sutton

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney recently announced a new gun violence prevention initiative on the heels of a year in which the city saw its highest homicide rate in in more than a decade.

The report, titled "The Philadelphia Roadmap to Safer Communities," states that homicides in Philadelphia have spiked 25.4 percent since 2015, resulting in the sixth-highest homicide rate among major American cities. Out of 10 major American cities with the most homicides in 2017, Philadelphia was only one of two cities whose homicide rate increased that year. Baltimore was the only other city that saw an increase on that list.

Kenney released the set of policy recommendations in the Jan. 17 report, which aim to address violence on an urban and systemic level. The initiatives focus on reforming Philadelphia policing practices and promoting community engagement in neighborhoods that typically exhibit high levels of gun violence. City officials said they would invest $4.4 million to begin implementing the new policies over the next six months, Philly Mag reported. 

The city lists various strategies such as connecting "young adults at a high risk of violence to education" and establishing "public health infrastructure focused on violence prevention."

Penn's March for Our Lives Advocacy Director and College freshman Michael Nevett, who was featured in Time magazine for his gun violence advocacy, said he supports the mayor's new gun violence initiative.

"The public health aspect is something that’s often ignored in terms of gun violence," Nevett said. "With gun violence prevention, you can’t look at it from just one side."

Penn Law professor David Rudovsky, who is also a defense attorney in Philadelphia, is cautiously optimistic about the mayor’s plans. Rudovsky works in civil rights and criminal defense, specifically tackling police misconduct and prisoner rights.

“It’s right to try to put together a program that addresses this problem more effectively than we’ve done in the past, but he’s really just at this point outlining some general ideas,” Rudovsky said. “It’s much better than what we’ve done with the war on drugs.”

The city’s report identifies educational deficiencies, prior incarceration records, and involvement with the child welfare system as “key risk factors” in Philadelphia’s increasing homicide rate. The mayor’s plan aims to take an approach to violence based in education and health, especially given Philadelphia’s recent history.

“We have in the past wasted billions of dollars on harsh and racially biased policing,” Rudovsky said. “To the degree that we see more gun violence in areas with high unemployment rates, there is a public health and social side to the problem."

Last year, Penn students addressed gun violence by participating in a campus walkout in April 2018 that brought more than 150 students onto Locust Walk to protest widespread gun violence in classrooms and schools across the nation.

Nevett emphasized the need for students to pay attention to gun violence in their city.

"It can be easy to pretend that we’re not in Philly, but you can just walk a few blocks and you’ll be in areas with relatively high rates of gun violence," Nevett said. "We should make sure that we get engaged and vote in local elections." 

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