Community activist Isaac Gardner, shown here leading a march in October 2020, runs Unsolved Murders in Philly, one of the organizations in the new program

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Twenty Philadelphia organizations working on criminal justice reform will receive microgrants between $5k to $10k from a $200,000 pot. The groups will become part of an ongoing collaboration to help stop the rising violence in Philadelphia, the city announced Wednesday.

“These grants will be more than a one time investment,” said Erica Atwood, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Criminal Justice and Public Safety.

The idea is for the organizations to become “part of a collective network coming together to bring about real and sustained change” in the city’s criminal justice system, Atwood said.

The announcement came at the fourth edition of Mayor Jim Kenney’s new biweekly briefing on gun violence and related solutions — which officials said may already be having a positive effect.

Grant recipients were selected from a pool of 42 applicants, and projects led by Black, Indigenous or other non-white people, as well as people who’d been affected by the criminal justice system, were prioritized to receive the money, which is funded by the MacArthur Foundation.

The city shared more information on grantees in a Wednesday press release.

One of them is The Liberation Foundation, founded by wrongfully convicted former juvenile lifer Terrance Lewis. The org works to advocate and provide legal representation to people in prison, and its grant will support Project HOPE, which helps match incarcerated people who claim innocence with attorneys at no cost, and helps prepare people for their return to society.

Another grantee, Unsolved Murders in Philly, is run by formerly incarcerated activist Isaac Gardner and will use the money to help fund programming for young people who’ve experienced trauma. Ten children will earn a stipend for a 6-week summer enrichment program where they’ll work assisting elderly and disabled neighbors.

Robust summer programming, so kids have things to do

Part of stemming the tide of gun violence is making sure young Philadelphians have options for fun and engaging things to do, officials hope.They outlined the city’s robust plans for summer programming, back in full force after last year’s COVID cancelations.

Public pools are reopening, said Deputy Mayor Cynthia Figueroa of the Office of Children and Families. She invited young people to apply for open lifeguard positions. Figueroa also noted that School District summer programs and summer camps run by Parks & Rec are both open for enrollment

Plus, Playstreets is coming back. The successful initiative, where residential streets are temporarily blocked off and community members help manage free food distribution for school-aged children, is currently seeking people to be community supervisors.

WorkReady is back in person, too. The city-run youth employment program has up to 8k slots for young people aged 12 to 24 years old, according to a graphic shown by the city Wednesday. Already, about 5k people have applied for the program, which runs through July and August and includes at least three days of weekly activity.

In all, Philadelphia hopes to reach up to 32,000 children with IRL programming, and an additional 750 kids virtually this summer.

The mayor touted the efforts as a way to discourage negative street activity. “We believe that keeping children and youth engaged in dynamic summer experiences will help keep them safe and reduce community violence,” Kenney said.

Briefings may be helping catch suspects

Philadelphia continues to see rising gun violence numbers citywide. Homicides are up 33% compared to last year, according to police, and shootings are up 37%. Notably, domestic violence-related homicides have doubled compared to this time last year.

There’s also been a sharp increase in arrests for firearm violations — on pace to top last year’s all-time high.

Already this year, police have made more than 1k firearm violation arrests, compared to just about 500 such arrests this time last year. In 2020, the total number of firearm violation arrests reached more than 2,300, according to police data.

All of this information was shared during the biweekly briefings, which began on March 17 after pressure from anti-violence activists. The virtual event brings together officials from various city departments and the Managing Director’s Office, community groups and activists, and the Philadelphia Police Department.

PPD Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Naish shared news suggesting the briefings may already be proving useful for fighting crime.

Police had been searching for months for a 16-year-old Philadelphia boy in connection with a gun homicide on Christmas Eve, Naish said. Three days after police shared information about the wanted teen during one the first briefing, investigators received knowledge about his whereabouts and he was apprehended.

Naish said he can’t say definitively that the tip to investigators came as a direct result of the event.

“He was actively moving from place to place,” Naish said, “but we received some good information just days after that initial press conference that was instrumental in apprehending the individual.”

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Layla A. Jones

Layla A. Jones (she/her) was a general assignment reporter for Billy Penn from 2019 to 2021. Her work has helped underserved community organizations, earned free repairs for property owners who sustained...