Ubiñas: Answers to Philly gun violence not at City Hall hearing

1200 Felecia Pendleton
Felecia Pendleton with a photo of her son, Jayvon Faheem Mitchell Pendleton, who was 20 when he was killed on March 2.

NONE OF us had any business being inside City Council chambers Monday.

Not the politicians seeking a strategy to reduce gun violence, sincere as they are.

Not the directors of this program or the president of that program, who inevitably said they needed more money to do what they do. Some do. Others need a good, hard look at their results before anyone forks over any more money.

Not the cynical reporters - speaking mostly of myself - who sat through a marathon hearing on youth gun violence, jotting down the same old catchphrases about partnerships and programs and resources and services - and if anyone was feeling especially brave, the "epidemic" of violence.

We know it's an epidemic - just like Ebola, said many at the hearing held by Council's Committee on Public Safety. Except we managed to respond to that public-health crisis in a way we never do with gun violence. As of January, the World Health Organization estimates that 11,315 people in six countries have died from Ebola since its 2014 outbreak. One in the United States.

Since 2001, 22,000 people were shot in Philly, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Reed, who testified at the hearing. Last year 1,200 people were shot. And even if that number wasn't alarmingly high, shootings where no one dies matter because it's not all about who's getting killed - it's about who's getting shot or seeing someone get shot or living in a neighborhood where people get shot, or having to deal with a broken life after a bullet flies through their body, blessedly missing a main artery.

Speaking of blessings, there was also Felicia Pendleton.

It took a grieving mother to get through a mostly been-here, heard-that hearing that included bureaucratic bickering between the District Attorney's Office and the school district about truancy rates. Someone fire up a flare when that's settled.

Pendleton's grief was still raw. On March 2, her 20-year-old son Jayvon Mitchell-Pendleton was shot and killed as he walked along a sidewalk in Strawberry Mansion. He was not a drug dealer and he didn't carry a gun, she wanted to make clear.

"My son had a plan and that plan wasn't to be murdered at 20 . . ." Pendleton said. She seemed to pause to catch her breath before saying the rest. " . . . by a 15-year-old and a 20-year-old."

Her oldest son was gone. But her son's friends - the ones who dressed in good pants and shirts for the funeral, she added - were not, and that's why she was there.

"They don't need job-readiness programs," she told Council members.

"They need jobs . . . now," she said to applause.

They don't need men and women in suits talking about helping them. They need them to get out of their suits - or better yet, teach them how to wear one for an interview - and reach out to them where they are.

"I need to see it outside of City Hall," Pendleton said.

Pendleton was a single mother who wouldn't hesitate to drag her son from an unsafe situation. She gave her son as much guidance as she could, helping him through his attention-deficit disorder to get him into college.

But in the end, she could not save him, not from a generation that - if we're being honest - is executing one another. She wasn't giving anyone who picks up a gun a pass, but she said the reality is that "there are kids out here who don't feel like they have anyone. They dropped out in eighth grade and now they are 18 and 19 and thinking: 'I have no education. I have nothing else to do but go to the streets.'"

We can choose to write them off. We can choose to blame - and there is enough blame to go around a few times. We're often talking about kids who were sometimes born into broken families - if any families at all - who walk into what we in this city have the audacity to call schools, who - surprise - may not have the academic or emotional wherewithal to scratch and crawl their way out of their circumstances. You know why? Because resilience, I've found, is too often a word adults like to throw around when adults haven't done enough to protect and help children.

Or, we can realize that if we don't do something right now, we risk losing a huge portion of yet another generation. The leading cause of death among young black men is murder.

These kids are on our streets, members of a neglected generation told to do better and be better with very little help.

All the programs that people were lined up to talk about sounded great, Pendleton said - except Monday was the first she'd heard of them. So what are the chances that the people who really need them know they even exist?

"They are not looking for a handout. All they are asking for is an honest chance. They know they don't have one. Right now they are angry. I am angry. If we don't get to these young men right now, that anger will turn to something else."

She's living that something else, and it's hell.

After the hearing Pendleton said her testimony, powerful as it was, was mostly a blur.

She wondered what we should all be wondering: Is something going to happen, is something going to change?

ubinas@phillynews.com

215-854-5943 @NotesFromHel

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