26-day hunger strike ends after activist extracts Kenney promise to act on gun violence

Philly radio host Purple Queen facilitated the truce with Jamal Johnson, though the mayor stopped short of declaring gun violence a citywide emergency.

Jamal Johnson ended his hunger strike after 26 days when Mayor Kenney agreed to move on efforts to better address on gun violence in Philadelphia

Jamal Johnson ended his hunger strike after 26 days when Mayor Kenney agreed to move on efforts to better address on gun violence in Philadelphia

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY
layla

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn email newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.


Jamal Johnson will end his 26-day hunger strike after Mayor Jim Kenney acknowledged a resolution declaring gun violence a citywide emergency, the activist told Billy Penn.

Starting on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Johnson vowed to turn down food until Kenney publicly addressed the resolution, which was introduced by Councilmember Jamie Gauthier and overwhelmingly approved by City Council in September.

The mayor came down Friday afternoon to speak to Johnson during his daily City Hall protest, alongside PQRADIO1 radio show host Saj Blackwel, also known as Purple Queen.

“I want to pledge to work to do what we can to fulfill the resolution and to get this violence under control,” Kenney can be heard saying during the interview, which PQRADIO1 captured on video. “We’ll try to implement what’s in this resolution as much as we can,” he continued.

In an emailed statement, Kenney said he plans to:

  • Release an updated version of the city’s 2018 anti-violence roadmap (in March)
  • Enhance coordination between city agencies
  • “Provide more regular public updates to address the public health crisis of gun violence”

The mayor had been concerned about the physical toll of the protest on 63-year-old Johnson, a city spokesperson said.

At the brief outdoor meeting, Kenney “acknowledged to Mr. Johnson the passage of the resolution, and told him they have the same goal of reducing homicides and shootings,” according to a city spokesperson.

“We should all have the same passion when it comes to ending gun violence in Philly!” read a Facebook post by Purple Queen, whose PQRADIO1 is a partner in the News and Information Community Exchange run by WHYY, Billy Penn’s parent company.

Councilmember Gauthier said she was thrilled to learn of the mayor’s pledge to fulfill her resolution.

“I look forward to continuing to work with Jamal and with Mayor Kenney to end gun violence in our communities,” Gauthier said, adding that she’d also been concerned about the activist’s health.

The resolution seeks to address Philadelphia’s record-high gun violence through:

  • Weekly public briefings on city gun violence efforts and how residents can keep safe
  • Further implementation of the administration’s own gun violence response plan
  • Mobilization of every city department, with gun violence as their top priorities
  • Leveraging private sector and nonprofit resources to help fund expanded anti-violence programming

The idea, Gauthier told Billy Penn earlier this month, is that the city should address gun violence as urgently as it has been addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With COVID-19 we see all of our city agencies working together and clear demonstrable ways… With COVID you saw a call out to the private sector and to the philanthropic community,” she said.

Resolution doesn’t call for ‘state of emergency,’ despite mayoral claim

Earlier this month, Kenney told 6ABC that declaring a “state of emergency” for gun violence could trigger a citywide lockdown or curfew. Through a city spokesperson, Kenney reiterated Friday that he believes it could lead to “over-policing.”

In response, resolution sponsor Gauthier issued a statement saying the mayor’s comments “falsely suggest[ed] to the public that we are calling for a heightened law enforcement response.” The words “state of emergency,” she noted, do not appear in the resolution, which was modeled after a similar executive order the mayor issued to address the opioid epidemic.

Johnson’s hunger strike persisted until he heard directly from the mayor on Friday afternoon.

While Kenney stopped short of officially adopting the resolution, Johnson said the mayor’s acknowledgement — and promise to work on the measures it outlined — is enough.

“I didn’t care if he even accepted it or not,” Johnson said. “I had two requests: one that he acknowledged the resolution and two that he said if he was going to do it or not, and why not.”

Johnson is a disabled Marine Corps veteran and longtime anti-violence activist. He said hunger striking was a last resort following Philadelphia’s deadliest year in three decades.

In 2020, 499 people were killed and more than 2,200 shot. Already this year, 64 people have been killed in the city, a 45% increase from this time last year.

Deprived of food for nearly a month, Johnson said he was admittedly in a daze and still processing what the mayor said, and what it meant. After exchanging information with members of the mayor’s staff, he expects the city to move with urgency.

“Well,” Johnson said he told Kenney’s representatives, “if I don’t see anything within a week, I’m just going to be right here where we’re standing.”

Thanks for reading another Billy Penn story

Find everything you need to know about Philly, every day — in clear, direct language, like a good friend might say.

No clickbait, no cliffhangers: the Billy Penn morning newsletter.

Thanks for supporting Billy Penn!

Test your local knowledge — join us for the next Philly Quizzo virtual event, or take the quiz online.

Lock in your support

Reader support powers our local pandemic reporting. A monthly membership helps lock it in.

Can we count on you as a Billy Penn sustainer?