Philly’s mayor and police commissioner are increasing patrols for student safety

Violence this academic year has felt unrelenting.

St. Malachy School in North Philadelphia has an integrated trauma program

St. Malachy School in North Philadelphia has an integrated trauma program

Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn
michaelawinberg-2020-2

Over the first two months of Philly’s school year, there were at least four shootings near school buildings. At least 29 children were shot.

The violence has been so staggering that school faculty are speaking out.

“I wish I could promise all my students safe travel, but I can’t,” said Aliya Catanch-Bradley, principal of Mary McLeod Bethune School, at a Monday press conference. “We’re plagued daily with gun violence that’s out of control in this city. We’re all here to be part of the solution. We clearly can’t police our way out. It will take all of us.”

Last month, Philadelphia principals rallied to demand more support from the city to stop the killings.

“I think there’s often a misconception around ‘Why can’t kids just walk into the building, sit down and get to work?'” said Gratz principal Le’Yondo Dunn at the rally. “They can’t walk into the building and sit down and get to work because they had to fight for their lives to even walk into the building, and that should not be their experience.”

Two weeks ago, Philly police promised to increase patrols at 25 school zones near 35 schools — mostly middle and high schools. On Monday, local officials including Mayor Jim Kenney and District Attorney Larry Krasner announced the effort would start immediately.

“In short, officers assigned to these zones will be on the lookout for suspicious activity,” said Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw. “Students and parents will notice an increase in visible officers.”

When it was announced last month, Councilmember Helen Gym called the change “long overdue.”

The problem has been building for years. A 2019 Billy Penn investigation found that shootings and other crimes are a present reality inside and around Philly schools. In the last decade, schools across the district have been forced to call a lockdown as frequently as every other school day — usually due to gunfire in the immediate area.

Schools have tried to come up with their own solutions to save students. Some have developed robust emotional support programming. Others have developed a relationship with local police officers, offered weekly grief counseling and searched for new programming to keep kids busy.

For now, the violence remains unrelenting. Since Jan. 1, Philly has seen at least 429 homicides, according to police data — and 135 of the victims were under 18 years old.

As a reminder of what’s at stake and the depth of the problem, below is a recap of shootings that happened around Philadelphia schools or affected students this year.

Violence plagues Simon Gratz students

This North Philly charter school has been battered by repeat incidents of gun violence. In September, the school shut down for a day of healing after three students and one recent graduate were shot in the span of just one week. Only one student, who’s 15 years old, survived.

Including last school year, that makes at least 10 Gratz students and alumni who’ve been shot.

“This should not be the lived experience of our students and their families,” school principal Dunn wrote in an Inquirer op-ed. “Students should not fear for their safety as they commute to school or sit outside their homes. More must be done.”

Football game interrupted by gunfire

A football game between Central High School and West Philadelphia High School was cut short one Friday in September when 19 shots were fired nearby at 49th and Spruce. A 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old boy were hit by bullets.

Repeat shootings outside Vaux 

A 15-year-old boy was wounded in late September after he was shot in his lower leg. It was just before 3 p.m. outside Vaux Big Picture High School in Sharswood.

For the Vaux school community, it wasn’t the first time violence reached their doorstep. In February, a 16-year-old boy was shot four times outside the North Philadelphia school around 3 p.m. on a Monday.

13-year-old killed on way to class

Students made a memorial at North Philly’s E.W. Rhodes School after their classmate, seventh-grader Marcus Stokes was shot and killed on his way to school. His teacher told the Inquirer that Stokes was smart, and that when he got to class, he shook hands with everyone in the room.

Stokes was among five other young people who were shot that morning in October.

“I miss u,” one student wrote on his memorial. “Like damn, u did not make it to 8th grade. Love u Mark.”

Deadly double shooting outside Lincoln High School

Outside Mayfair’s Lincoln High School, a shooting killed a 66-year-old man and wounded a 16-year-old boy. The violence erupted when a 21-year-old shot into a crowd of teenagers.

Student shoots himself in the leg in the gym

An 18-year-old student at the West Philadelphia alternative school Philadelphia Learning Academy South accidentally shot himself in the leg while he was in the gym. The student managed to get a gun inside the building last month, despite that school buildings are equipped with metal detectors at their entrances.

 

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