Some members of Philadelphia City Council got a different perspective yesterday on the youth violence that has gripped the city. They heard about the problem directly from street-smart youths and young adults.
About 50 youths, most of them from a program called Don't Fall Down in the Hood that helps to rehabilitate young people 13 to 18 who have been in the juvenile justice system, were guests of Council's Public Safety Committee. About a dozen of them gave testimony.
The hearing was scheduled by Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller, who said the goal was to "include the youths' experiences and views in developing plans, actions and policy" to reduce violence.
"This just gives them an opportunity to be heard, because young people don't think people are listening to them," Miller said.
Lamar Stalworth, 19, who has been charged with possession of a firearm, said, "I got pulled over for having a gun in my pocket."
Stalworth said he and some friends had "exchanged words" with another group. "That's why I had a gun," he told Council members.
Councilman Juan Ramos asked him whether it had been difficult to acquire a gun.
"It was easy" to get a handgun on the street, Stalworth said.
Stalworth and others said there was a critical need for improvements at city recreation centers to help keep teens off the streets.
"Rec centers need to be open 24 hours a day," he said. "Young people end up on corners because some rec centers are just as dangerous as the street corners."
Another young man, Tom Carter, said he, too, had been charged with possession of a firearm. Carter said he had grabbed his father's shotgun after a group of teens were involved in a fight on his block in the Northeast.
Carter said about "20 kids were coming down the street, so I went in the house and grabbed the gun."
Archye Leacock, executive director of the Institute for the Development of African American Youth, which administers Don't Fall Down in the Hood, said the heart of the problem of youth violence was lack of opportunities.
"For us, the real challenge is choices we put in front of them," Leacock said. He noted a decline in summer jobs for teens over the last few years.
"We need quality opportunities in front of our young people," Leacock said. "We are wasting young peoples' lives."
Lonelle Parks, who is enrolled in Don't Fall Down in the Hood, said gangs were becoming a problem in Philadelphia.
Parks said the Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings and Vice Lords and other out-of-town gangs were operating in Philadelphia.
Under questioning from Ramos, Parks said the gangs "come, recruit and go. They are gangs coming from other states.
The young people and Council members watched a segment of a short film on violence in Philadelphia called Close to Death.
Rick Kennedy, one of the two producers of the film, said one of the problems behind gun violence is that "kids today don't respect authority and they don't respect each other.. . . Guys were asking us if we wanted to buy guns while we were filming."
Shawn "Frogg" Banks, 36, the other producer of the film - who indicated that he had spent two years in jail on drug and firearms charges - urged youngsters to put down their guns and improve their appearance.
"Take those hoodies off and pull your pants up," Banks said.
"We are losing this war" against gun violence in Philadelphia, he added.