Jamal Johnson is back on hunger strike, demanding Kenney take action on gun violence

The mayor’s office says regular public safety briefings are coming “soon.”

Jamal Johnson resumed his hunger strike on March 1

Jamal Johnson resumed his hunger strike on March 1

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY
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Less than three weeks after eating his first meal in 26 days, anti-violence activist Jamal Johnson is back on hunger strike. The Germantown resident says Mayor Jim Kenney hasn’t lived up to his promise to take action on the city’s gun violence crisis.

Johnson’s protest began in January with a plea for the mayor to publicly acknowledge a City Council resolution to make gun violence a citywide emergency.

Kenney did that during a February meeting with Johnson brokered by Saj “Purple” Blackwell of PQRADIO1.

Talking with the gaunt, 63-year-old activist on the south apron of City Hall, Kenney verbally pledged “to work to do what we can to fulfill the resolution,” which calls for weekly public briefings and other steps to address city gun violence.

But 18 days later, Johnson said that what he perceives as Kenney’s inaction makes the mayor’s words meaningless. “To this date, he hasn’t done anything that is contained in the resolution, which to me means that his statement was null and void,” Johnson said.

Radio host Blackwell said that while she respects the activist’s cause, she thinks he has moved his goal posts.

“Mr. Johnson stated… he wanted the mayor to acknowledge the resolution and say what he was going to do with it,” she said. “And [Kenney] acknowledged the two things [Johnson] asked him to do.”

There were 499 people murdered in Philadelphia in 2020, the highest number in three decades. The only other time more people were recorded killed in the city was in 1990, when 500 people were killed. This year’s homicide count is already running 24% ahead of last year to date, according to police data.

“Every time I turn around somebody I know, knows somebody that’s either been shot or killed,” Johnson said. “Every week, somebody is telling me about somebody else.”

Johnson’s calling on the mayor to follow through on his pledge to fulfill the resolution by at least beginning to hold regular public updates on city anti-violence initiatives.

“All I’m asking him is to do something in alignment with the resolution,” Johnson said. “The minimum he could do is hold a [recurring] briefing.”

Kenney: Regular updates on gun violence coming ‘soon’

Following the mass shooting near Olney Transportation Center in mid-February, Kenney said in a press release he planned to provide more frequent public updates on violence reduction strategies.

On Monday, city spokesperson Dave Kinchen told Billy Penn there will be more details on that effort “soon.”

Kinchen also said the administration will release its new “Philadelphia Roadmap to Safer Communities,” a revamped version of the anti-violence policy strategy released in 2019, and noted that Kenney “declared gun violence a public health emergency in 2018.”

Resolution No. 200447 was introduced by Councilmember Jamie Gauthier and passed by council last September. It 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

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw will be involved whenever the city launches its effort at increased transparency around anti-violence initiatives, a department spokesperson said, adding that the PPD is working with the Kenney administration and other stakeholders to help plan these more regular updates.

District Attorney Larry Krasner has held regular briefings on gun violence since January, said spokesperson Jane Roh. The office is in talks with the administration on how to best inform the public on their efforts, she said.

The resolution was modeled after a similar executive order that addressed the opioid epidemic in 2018, per Gauthier. The first-year lawmaker from West Philadelphia said she wants the mayor to treat gun violence with the same urgency as the opioid and COVID-19 crisis — a request Johnson has echoed.

Kinchen, the Kenney spokesperson, said his opioid crisis emergency declaration was made when the city was under better financial circumstances. Philadelphia faces a $450 million budget deficit going into the next fiscal year.

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