For the third year in a row, I’m calling Philadelphians to the Art Museum steps on Monday at 1 p.m. to stand against gun violence.
For some perspective, here are the numbers: The 1,218 shootings and 311 homicides last year, the first time since 2012 that the city recorded more than 300 murders.
So far this year, 520 shootings and 125 homicides, a stat that’s likely outdated by the time you read this.
For more perspective, there are the stories, so many stories that fill in the tragic blanks of those stark numbers: the aftermath of friends and family left behind, the shooting victims whose lives were spared but who now live with life-altering injuries, mostly on their own.
In an effort to show the impact, to try to make people care, we reporters often tell individual stories. But these tales can sometimes make issues seem smaller than they are — not my neighborhood, not my child, not my problem. And so I put out the call to come to the city’s iconic steps for all of us to take in just how many people are impacted by gun violence.
Even if you haven’t been directly affected, the impact is as close as the person you pass on the street, the person you stand next to on the subway, the person you will be standing next to on the steps.
I first called people to the Art Museum in response to the massacre in an Orlando nightclub in 2016. While the nation reeled over that gun-related tragedy, I did not want the moment to pass without calling attention to the daily death toll in Philadelphia. With very little notice, a small group gathered. More people gathered last year.
And yet, I’ll confess that I was considering not putting out the call this year.
I was tired of screaming into the wind.
We talk and talk and talk about violence, but we don’t do enough to prevent it.
Here in Philadelphia, we spend millions on antiviolence programs that clearly aren’t working. The city is still evaluating them, but the continuous bloodshed is all the proof I need.
But then in January I met 6-year-old John Koger, who dreamed about ending gun violence, and something in his wide-eyed optimism made me believe again. He was the first person I invited to this year’s gathering.
In March I met Maureen Boland’s high school students at Parkway Center City Middle College as they were struggling to decide whether they would stand in solidarity with the students in Parkland after the horrific Florida school shooting. The Philly students asked: Would the Parkland students have stood in solidarity with them?
Despite my own frustrations and anger about whose voices we value, whose lives matter in this world, I told them that sometimes it’s better to claim your space in someone else’s spotlight than to sit righteously in the dark.
And what they have done, how they have claimed their space in this fight, has been nothing short of amazing. There is no doubt that right here in Philadelphia, we have our own Emma Gonzalezes and David Hoggs, the Parkland students who called BS on unchecked gun violence. My goal: to hand over this gathering to Philadelphia’s children, to do whatever I can to help them do what my generation hasn’t.
There’s no way of knowing who will show up. Since the beginning, I’ve said if all Philadelphians impacted by violence came, we’d fill those sweeping steps.
People often ask if this public official or that public official will speak. The short answer is no.
This isn’t the time for that. It’s the time for them to show up and listen. So, consider this your official invite, Mayor Kenney, who came last year, and Police Commissioner Richard Ross and District Attorney Larry Krasner, and every Council member and ward leader and company CEO and newsroom editor whose own success should be intrinsically linked to the success of this city.
Come hear the stories. Come listen to pleas for justice. Among those who will be there are parents of murder victims whose deaths remain unsolved in a city where about half of homicides aren’t solved. That includes Kathy Lees, who will be on those steps on the anniversary of her son’s 17-year-old son’s death on June 11, 2011.
In their remarks, the Parkway students will bring up some good ideas about preventing gun violence. They want to stop the flow of illegal guns. But they also want the adults in their city to step up and do for this generation what they failed to do for the last.
We can start by showing up for them on the steps Monday afternoon.