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Building a coalition to save lives

Pedro Ramos
Shawn McCaney
Estelle Richman

The Civic Coalition to Save Lives has been laying the foundation for a year to help reduce gun violence and murders.

The Philadelphia Foundation and the William Penn Foundation are two of the key players in the coalition, which held a recent Zoom briefing with the media. Those foundations are joined by the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, the Urban Affairs Coalition and the Philadelphia Equity Alliance.

In 2021, Philadelphia had 562 murders, including 506 committed by people with guns. The murder rate has topped 500 again this year.

“It’s too big for us to ignore,” said Shawn McCaney, executive director of the William Penn Foundation.

Among those also on the call were Pedro Ramos, president of the Philadelphia Foundation; Estelle Richman, the coalition’s new executive director; Bret Perkins, a vice president at Comcast; and Romona Riscoe Benson, PECO Energy’s director of Corporate & Community Impact, who said PECO president Michael Innocenzo supports the coalition.

Supporters of the coalition include Holy Family University.

Coalition members are optimistic they can make a difference despite the violent crime plaguing the city.

“It is not hopeless,” McCaney said.

Ted Qualli, director of communications and marketing for the Philadelphia Foundation, led the briefing with details of what progress has taken place in the last year and what is planned for the future.

The Philadelphia Foundation and the William Penn Foundation historically have not engaged in issues such as gun violence and criminal justice. That has changed.

The foundations noticed a drop in summer 2022 participation in literacy programs and Playstreets, and they attribute that to a view among many parents that the streets are not safe.

The coalition believes its response at the civic level will complement government’s efforts. Other cities, the coalition argues, have seen a difference when they’ve focused on individuals most at risk of being a victim or a perpetrator.

Oakland and Indianapolis, for instance, have seen declines in homicides and non-fatal shootings.

The coalition was enough to bring Richman out of a decade-long retirement. Richman is pleased that the police department is supporting the coalition, and she wants the group to make a difference starting in 2023, before a new mayor takes office.

“I hope I’m bringing a feeling of urgency,” she said.

To succeed, the coalition will have to raise money, $25 million to be exact, and members believe that’s doable, recalling the successful civic response to the coronavirus.

So far, the coalition had relied on the expertise of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform in crafting its agenda.

To make an immediate impact, the coalition believes intervention is the key. As for the long term, prevention and transformation are pillars.

The coalition has offered to fund, for three years, a Gun Violence Intervention Coordination Center. It also plans a Community Safety Civic Resource Board and a Community Safety Education Campaign.

Mayor Jim Kenney, the district attorney’s office and the city Office of Violence Protection are backing the coalition’s approach.

As for goals, the coalition wants to see a reduction in fatal and non-fatal shootings in 12 to 36 months.

While the Gun Violence Intervention Coordination Center will be funded for three years, Qualli said there is no “finish line” for the coalition’s work.

Ramos is encouraged by donations, offers of support and in-kind contributions as the coalition seeks to assist government in lowering gun violence.

“Everybody could use more help,” he said. ••

For more information, visit savephillylives.org. Enter your name and email address at “Stay Informed” to have updates sent to your inbox.

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