This post was written by Theron Pride and Dave Kinchen, Office of Violence Prevention

As we work together to slow the spread of COVID-19, and our nation and city continue to reckon with racism following the heinous murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many other Black Americans. We must continue to stand against violence in all its forms.

No one should have to live under the threat of gun violence, but tragically more than 1,000 people have been shot and more than 250 people have been killed so far this year in our city. Over 80 percent of the victims are Black; this is unacceptable. We know gun violence is preventable. We know there are proven interventions that can help us save lives.

This is why we are implementing the Group Violence Intervention, or GVI for short, to support and enhance our comprehensive gun violence reduction plan, the Philadelphia Roadmap to Safer Communities.

GVI is an evidence-based approach that elevates the role community support and social services play in reducing gun violence. And, most importantly, it involves law enforcement partnering with the community to focus on the small and active number of people driving the violence plaguing many of our neighborhoods.

To be clear, this is not a heavy-handed law enforcement approach to the problem. We know we cannot arrest or prosecute our way out of this. This is about the community and law enforcement delivering a unified message to stop the violence to those who are engaged in it and offering services and support to those who want the help.

Stopping the spread of gun violence

Much like the efforts of healthcare workers to stop the spread of COVID-19, GVI is about stopping the spread of shootings in Philadelphia. If we can stop one group-involved shooting, we have the potential of stopping countless others that typically follow when opposing group members choose to retaliate.

For the participants and groups that continue to engage in gun violence, there will be swift, certain, and legitimate consequences. The consequences will be fair and rely on the least amount of enforcement necessary to hold groups accountable.

Working with the community

At its core, the goal is to elevate the moral voice of the community to set standards against violence, relying on law enforcement as a last resort. Individuals engaged in group violence will be contacted through a process that respects their humanity and aims to encourage and support their desire to disengage from violence. In other words—whether asked to attend a meeting in person or contacted during a home visit—these individuals will hear from people concerned about the violence and concerned about their wellbeing. This includes members from the community impacted by gun violence and representatives from the City that can help link these individuals to needed services and support in addition to representatives from law enforcement.

Investing in an intervention that works

To date, the City has allocated $750,000 for GVI, with another $500,000 pledged from the state to support this effort. We’ve also made significant strides to ensure a robust and aligned social service component. This includes hiring a GVI Coordinator and hiring case managers at the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) to make sure that when individuals reach out for help, they are quickly connected and prioritized for services.

We know GVI works. The evidence points to several success stories in major cities across the country. This is why we are making this investment; this intervention will help us reduce gun violence and save lives. And make no mistake: every shooting and homicide has a ripple effect in our neighborhoods. In the same vein, every life saved can have a ripple effect of its own.

Saving lives

Ultimately, we know gun violence affects all of us, but poses the greatest risk to Black lives in our city. Given this harsh reality, potentially with every life saved, we have an incredible opportunity to reinforce the message that Black Lives Matter. But too often, especially in Black communities, people are “over-policed and under-protected. Young Black men are routinely stopped for merely walking down the street, while in the same neighborhoods, killers go free” (Kennedy, 2020).

As we strive to uproot and dismantle racism in our city, GVI will help us in our relentless pursuit to do everything we can to ensure all of us are free from the threat of gun violence—because anything less is unacceptable.

Together, let’s seize this moment to stop the shooting and make Philadelphia safer for all.