Calling all Philadelphians touched by violence to Art Museum steps on June 15

Shira Goodman, left, and Michael Cogbill, right, talk with students at an assembly held by CeaseFire PA about gun violence, at Cooke Middle School, where students are dealing with the loss of one of their classmates earlier this year, Friday, June 2, 2017. ( JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer)

National Gun Violence Awareness Day on Friday quickly turned into Gun Violence Awareness weekend, which I realized somewhere into my second or third event could easily turn into Gun Violence Awareness month, or year.

Seriously, that’s how many events around gun violence, including my own on the Art Museum steps on June 15, there seem to be at any given time in Philadelphia.

Makes sense when you consider that for the year, we were already at 570-plus shooting incidents, 485 shooting victims, and 127 homicides. That was before the five homicides between Saturday and Monday morning, one of them a double murder that sounds more like an execution.

So, it was interesting (read: infuriating, disgusting, exhausting) that shortly after the latest terrorist attack in London, which left seven dead and 48 injured, President Trump tweeted:

“Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That’s because they used knives and a truck!”

Imagine how many more casualties there would have been if the U.K. didn’t have strict gun laws? Imagine if Trump was up at all hours of the day and night tweeting about the gun violence in the country he keeps telling us he’s going to make great again instead of promoting a racist travel ban on the backs of the freshly fallen?

Gabby Giffords, gunshot victim and former lawmaker, wasted no time clapping back:

“Mr. President, every day we are having a gun debate because every day 90 people in our country die from gun violence. Many of them are kids.”

Kids like Khiseer Davis-Papther, a 13-year-old who was shot in the head in March inside a takeout restaurant in Nicetown.

On Friday morning, his classmates at Jay Cooke Elementary School gathered to have a conversation about gun violence, led by CeaseFire PA.

No matter how many times executive director Shira Goodman explained the Second Amendment to students, they asked the same thing:

“Why can’t we just ban guns?”

That made perfect sense to them, children who raised their hands high when asked if they had lost a loved one to a shooting, who are as familiar with the sound of gunfire as they are the jingle from the ice-cream truck.

Who wondered aloud why the killing just can’t stop.

But sense always seems to be in short supply during conversations about gun policies, held miles away from people or neighborhoods taking the biggest brunt of unchecked chaos, definitely far from the people who gathered at an event hosted on Friday night by Lisa Epsinosa for families of gun victims. Espinosa’s 26-year-old son was shot outside a nightclub last year.

More than a few times this weekend, I found myself asking people what more could be done. There doesn’t seem to be a lack of programs, events, hand wringing. Yet we fall short.

There are always more shootings, those that always briefly catch the nation’s attention and those that never do, like the May 20 shooting of nine people dancing at a North Philadelphia graduation party.

“If this happened in Bensalem, it would be called a mass shooting,” Ronald Crawford, an addiction counselor, told my colleagues.


If I expected company in my pity party, I was hanging with the wrong people all weekend. There were grief, frustration, anger – especially from those whose murders of loved ones have not been solved.



But nowhere was there even a whiff of defeat.

At the second annual Angel Picnic held by National Homicide Justice Alliance, in collaboration with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, CeaseFire PA and Operation Save Our City, M.A. Nord, the legislative lead on their Philadelphia team, addressed that.

“With this litany of lives, stolen and shattered by gun violence, and the failure of our government to take meaningful action, it would be easy to become cynical,” she told those gathered. “And yet I remain hopeful. And inspired. Because of the people that are gathered here today – a community of people who do not subscribe to cynicism, because they know that cynicism is a refuge for cowards.”

We are a lot of things in Philly, but not cowards.

Let’s show that by coming together on the Art Museum steps at 6 p.m. June 15 in a united stand against violence.

Let’s commit to keep fighting to end the violence that affects us all.