FOLLOWING President Trump's visit to Philadelphia last week, headlines blared that he lied about the city's murder rate. Here's what he said: "Just look at the 30 largest cities. In the last year alone, the murder rate has soared. Here in Philadelphia, murder has been steady - I mean just terribly - increasing."
Let's look at the actual numbers: In 2016, the city suffered 277 homicides. And judging from the last three years for which data is available (2012-2014), it's safe to say that at least 80 percent of those homicides were the result of gunshots. But in 2015, there were 280 homicides. So, the numbers not only are not terribly increasing, but are actually down a bit. And we're still quite a long way from the horror of 2007, when we had 391 homicides. But in 2016, in our city alone, 277 families suffered unimaginable pain and tragedy. And that doesn't even include the shootings that left injured survivors. In fact, even though homicides were down in 2016, shootings were up.
How do I know all this? The Philadelphia Police Department posts amazing data, and updates it every day, so you can track how we're doing compared with last year at the same date. (https://www.phillypolice.com/crime-maps-stats/index.html)
I guess Trump or one of his aides looked at the same numbers I did. And someone consciously decided to ignore those numbers and blatantly lie.
Why? It's right there on the website, easily searched. Mayor Kenney quickly called the president on the lie. Who lies knowing he'll immediately be caught?
I've been thinking about this a lot, and I have a theory. When your goal is to distract and divert, the best plan is to shift attention somewhere else. These easily fact-checked lies are perfect for that. So much ink is spilled, tweets tweeted and memes shared about the lies, that energy and attention are deflected from the real issue. Here, that issue is what we're going to do about gun violence in our cities.
We undeniably have a gun violence problem. Too many illegal guns, too many shootings, too many deaths, too many injuries. People who legally are not allowed to have guns easily get guns, and we pay the toll not only in homicides, but also in suicides and unintentional shootings.
The truth is simple. We know how to reduce the toll of gun violence. It won't be easy, but a combination of regulatory measures that impact easy access to firearms by those who should not have them, policing and prosecution, and the creation of new educational and occupational opportunities would go a long way to reducing those numbers. That takes will, money and hard work. Here in Philadelphia, we have had mayors, Council members, district attorneys, police chiefs, state and federal representatives and senators willing to do that work. They have lacked partners in Harrisburg and Washington. And they truly lack those partners now.
Instead, we have a president who is indebted to the National Rifle Association, an organization committed to an agenda of guns for anyone, anywhere, anytime, an organization that works to help gun manufacturers sell more guns. So, instead of talking about the hard work ahead, Trump creates a tempest in a teapot by lying about known facts, and he distracts us from the real advocacy work we need to be doing.
We cannot allow this tactic to work. I've written here before - regarding jury duty, voting and advocating with our elected officials - that being a citizen is both a blessing and very hard work. It comes with amazing rights and responsibilities. Educating ourselves was always part of the job, but it's just gotten harder because places and offices we thought we could count on for truth have shown themselves to be unreliable, or worse.
So, it's up to us. CeaseFirePA is pledging that that every day, we will post and tweet a fact or statistic about gun violence - in Pennsylvania, the United States, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie or another city. We'll give you the information you need to separate the facts from the lies. We hope this will help as you call and write your elected officials to let them know what's really going on and to demand that they work for real solutions.
Education, truth, facts. They belong to "we the people." Don't get distracted by the lies. Stay focused. There is much work ahead. Focus on the real facts, arm yourself with knowledge.
Shira Goodman is the executive director of CeaseFirePA, Pennsylvania's gun violence prevention organization, located online at ceasefirepa.org.